2019 Players and Coaches Visit Shriners Hospital for Children
FOOTBALL IS A GREAT SPORT; it teaches teamwork, discipline and perseverance in reaching goals. It’s exciting to watch and fun to play. As the longest running college all-star game in the nation, the East-West Shrine Game has been woven into America’s football tradition for 90 years.
Shriners created the East-West Shrine Game in 1925, driven to help children and families in need. They dedicated the game to raising awareness and support for Shriners Hospitals for Children. Today there are 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children locations; back in 1925 there just were nine.
As the game grew, legendary coaches like Don Shula, Dick Vermeil, Paul “Bear” Bryant, and Jerry Glanville joined renowned players like Gale Sayers, Tom Brady, John Elway, Alan Page, Dick Butkus, Brett Favre, Gino Marchetti and Walter Payton in supporting the East-West Shrine Game. The game is an important opportunity for the nation’s top college players, giving them the chance to display their talents to a national television audience and over 300 NFL scouts.
As part of the game week tradition, teams visit Shiners Hospitals for Children – Tampa. The true meaning of the game hits home when the players and coaches spend time with the kids, experiencing their courage and determination. All will tell you, time spent with the kids is both humbling and inspirational.
January 18, 2020 marks the 95th game in this special tradition.
Story Behind the Logo
East-West Shrine Game fans are familiar with the event’s logo. The image of a football player walking with a young girl appears on game posters, billboards, T-shirts, as well as on the website. Although the logo is famous, the story and the people involved are less well-known. Here is what happened:
In 1974, a 2-year-old patient named Nicole was receiving care at Shriners Hospitals for Children® – San Francisco (later Shriners Hospitals for Children – Northern California). She was born with Holt-Oram syndrome, a genetic condition that affects bones in the arms and hands. For Nicole, this meant that her thumbs had not fully developed. To provide more functionality, surgeons removed her thumbs and repositioned her index fingers in their place. This procedure would allow Nicole to comb her own hair, button a shirt, hold a cup and be independent.
On the same day she was recovering from her first surgery, football players from the 1974 East-West Shrine Game visited the hospital. A tradition during the week of events leading up to the big football game, the visit gives players the opportunity to interact with patients and learn more about Shriners Hospitals for Children.
One of the players, Mike Esposito, noticed Nicole because she appeared scared and was crying. Esposito took her hand to calm her down and they walked down the hallway together. A photographer from a local newspaper noticed the scene and snapped a photo of the two new friends. The image perfectly depicts our mission, and became the inspiration for the official logo of the East-West Shrine Game.
Nicole has three children of her own and works with children with disabilities. Her son, Collin, was born with Holt-Oram syndrome and received treatment at Shriners Hospitals for Children – Northern California. Nicole recalls mixed emotions about her son's condition. “A part of me was obviously concerned, but another part felt secure because I knew this was the best place for him to be treated”.
When she returned to Shriners Hospitals for Children – Northern California for her son's treatment, Nicole was stunned. Collin would be cared for by the same surgeon, anesthesiologist and nurse who had helped her as a child. “I was surprised that most of the staff was still there and remembered who I was. I think that’s what separates Shriners Hospitals for Children from everybody else; instead of treating you as a patient, they treat you as part of their family.”
The newspaper image of Nicole and Mike Espoisito taken by Ken Yimm, Peninsula Times-Tribune, at the East-West Shrine Game players visit to Shriners Hospitals for Children in 1974.
Nicole and her son Collin.
In 1988, at the 63rd East-West Shrine Game in Stanford, Calif., Nicole and Mike Esposito were reunited. At halftime, in front of an emotional crowd, they walked across the field hand-in-hand. "It was definitely an exciting and nerve-wracking moment walking on the field in front of so many people,” said Nicole. “I remember Mike being extremely calm and comforting, just like he was when I first met him.”