Ryan plays through pain of father's death

Punter Jon Ryan returns to the team today after going home to Saskatchewan for his father's funeral. The rookie showed toughness by playing; the Packers showed a soft side by helping him through the toughest time of his life.

We take a timeout from the yelling and screaming about our beloved Green Bay Packers to remind you that it's only a game.

And sometimes during games, real life intervenes.

Punter Jon Ryan lost his 54-year-old father to cancer on Friday. But there was Ryan on Sunday, literally fighting back tears, to punt during the team's 38-10 loss to the New York Jets.

"It hit me pretty hard before kickoff and again after my first punt. I kind of came off the field with a tear in my eyes," Ryan said after the game. "It was very difficult."

There probably isn't one of you who hasn't been affected by cancer in some way. It's the worst disease imaginable, slowly sapping the life from a loved one.

Often, the cure — chemotherapy or radiation — seems worse than the disease itself. In the case of Bob Ryan, the only recourse was to amputate both of his legs. It's an option he declined.

So, sometimes a death — no matter how traumatic — brings a bit of relief.

Perhaps that's why Ryan punted on Sunday. He could have taken the day off and not one person would have thought badly about him. But, as the survivors often realize, taking a day off is not what the victim would have wanted.

"Not playing didn't cross my mind once," Ryan said. "It wasn't even my decision; it was my dad's decision. He would want me to play. So, really, it wasn't a hard decision at all to play.

"I definitely did feel him with me today."

Bob Ryan was diagnosed with chondrosarcoma, a cancer of the bone cartilage, after he broke a leg at his home in Regina, Saskatchewan, in August. The cancer quickly spread to engulf one leg, both hips and his lungs.

"It's been hard to get through this whole season," said Ryan, who was in Regina for Monday's funeral service and will be back in Green Bay for today's practice. "We found out in training camp that it was terminal. Some days are easier than others, but every day has been a struggle. (Sunday) was probably the hardest day yet."

Not all the days were filled with fear and sadness. Ryan's dad made the trek to Green Bay for an August preseason game, then surprised Jon by attending the Oct. 29 matchup against Arizona.

While fans are in a frenzy about the coaching of Mike McCarthy and the leadership of general manager Ted Thompson, it's worth noting their hearts are in the right place.

Not only did McCarthy let Ryan visit his father during the bye week, but he let his punter return home last week to spend a final day with his dad. The team helped set up the flight.

Sure, it's the right thing to do, and certainly, having a punter miss a day of practice hardly would set back the team's preparations, but you have to believe the Packers would have given him Sunday off, had he asked.

"Listen, football's a very important thing. And in some regards, it's a passion for people, no matter how young or old. But there are priorities other than football," special-teams coach Mike Stock said last week.

It was time well spent.

"It was a day that I'll never forget and something I'll have with me forever. I really have no regrets," Ryan said. "I'm definitely glad I went back home to see him."

Ryan got plenty of support from his teammates, including Brett Favre, who famously lost his dad in 2003, and long snapper Rob Davis, whose brother was slain.

"(Favre) told me he was sorry that it happened and said that my dad and his dad are probably up there joking around right now," Ryan said. "So, things like that make you feel a little bit better, just thinking about it."

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.

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