(Eds: Updates with quotes, details. With AP Photos.)By TERESA M. WALKERAP Sports Writer
Three NFL coaches will honor the late Mike Heimerdinger, the longtime assistant coach and coordinator, by helping his foundation raise cancer awareness and provide healthier meals for survivors.
Washington’s Mike Shanahan, Houston’s Gary Kubiak and St. Louis’ Jeff Fisher will take part in the Drive for Dinger, a two-day fundraising dinner, silent auction and golf tournament that starts June 28.
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The event for the Heimerdinger Foundation will assist the Meals 2 Heal program.
”I’m just very, very grateful that they’re there and wanting to go ahead and help out,” said his wife Kathie Heimerdinger.
Heimerdinger worked for the Denver Broncos, New York Jets and most recently the Tennessee Titans. He was diagnosed with cancer in November 2010 and kept coaching the Titans the rest of the season. He died 10 months later.
Shanahan has known Dinger since they were freshman roommates at Eastern Illinois and hired him twice to work for him in Denver. They played golf every year in the break before training camp and went fishing in Florida last year.
”This charity, to me, is to make it easier on people that have cancer to get meals, to understand exactly what the cancer is,” Shanahan said. ”When Mike first got it, there were so many questions. His family wants to make it easier for someone who does have cancer and their family, where they can find out all the things they need to know.
”We’re raising money to make it a little bit easier for people with cancer who can’t afford some meals and health care.”
Doctors had told Heimerdinger to cut out red meat and only eat peeled fruits and vegetables to help avoid pesticides and herbicides. That left his wife shopping for organic food and triple-washing fruits and vegetables.
”That’s why we decided to go ahead and focus on the nutritional needs of the cancer patient and also help the caretaker out,” Kathie Heimerdinger said. ”When the family member’s diagnosed with cancer, it just doesn’t affect that person. It does affect the whole family.
”You don’t think you’ll ever get that disease and if you’re given a terminal diagnosis, that’s even worse. Basically, you have a doubly hard job of trying to keep that body healthy.”
His wife and children started the foundation last fall, and recently decided to focus on feeding cancer patients based on the Ceres Community Project in Sonoma County, Calif. The Meals 2 Heal requires money to fill kitchens with equipment and food, along with the staff to cook the meals and deliver them.
That’s where Dinger’s friends come in.
Heimerdinger was offensive coordinator for Fisher with the Titans in two different stints. Kubiak, who worked with him in Denver, said there’s nothing he’d rather do than pay tribute to his friend.
”He was a true joy to work and compete with,” Kubiak said. ”But more importantly, a great husband, father and friend.”
The coaches are bringing friends and players along with them, including Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler, Titans defensive end Dave Ball and former players Frank Wycheck and Keith Bulluck. The golf tournament has a waiting list, with tickets still available for the dinner and silent auction.
”I’m just hoping that the auction on Thursday night, that people get on board and we raise as much money as we can for a great cause,” Shanahan said.
The Heimerdingers hope to use the money from the fundraiser to cook and deliver meals by the one-year anniversary of his death in September or by his birthday in October. That makes Kathie thankful for her husband’s friends.
”Especially at a time they’re busy and they’re getting ready to go on vacation,” she said. ”They’ve got other things they can go to. To go ahead and put aside all of that to help us get a golf tournament off the ground, I’m just so deeply indebted to them. I just don’t have words for it.”