Green Bay Packers guard T.J. Lang (70) shows his dejection as he sits on the bench during Sunday's game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Chiefs defeated the Packers 19-14. / File/Press-Gazette
T.J. Lang tries not to think about it when he’s on the football field.
But it’s hard for the Green Bay Packers offensive lineman not to dwell on his ailing father, who was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness six weeks ago, underwent surgery and on Tuesday began the first in a series of treatments.
“Obviously I’m thinking about stuff, there’s stuff going through my mind every day,” said Lang this week. “The key is to just kind of limit that as much as possible, and just focus on when I’m in the building for seven, eight hours, focus on football, the job at hand. Then when I go home I can take care of some stuff outside of here. It’s definitely a challenge. You can’t help but think about what’s going on. You just have to find a way.”
His 55-year-old father, Tom Lang, received the sobering diagnosis on Nov. 14, the same day the Packers hosted the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football.
“We knew he was going in the hospital,” said T.J. Lang. “Something was wrong, but the diagnosis was definitely a bit shocking, almost the worst case thing you could have thought of.”
Out of respect for his father’s privacy, T.J. prefers not to discuss specific health details.
“We know what the battle is,” he said. “We know what we have to fight so it’s a tough battle for him and my family. Nobody is giving up hope. We’re going to fight it the best we can, stick together and be there for each other.”
Lang, who has a close relationship with his father, played with a heavy heart that day against the Vikings. Later that week he sent this message to his Twitter followers: “It’s been a rough couple days for me and my family… please keep my father in your prayers.”
Packers offensive line coach James Campen said that Lang’s play has been “very solid” over the past month. Campen knows it hasn’t been easy, but he praises Lang for separating his personal and professional life.
“That’s challenging for a young person, or anyone for that matter,” said Campen. “He’s done an excellent job of … coming to work and dealing with that outside here, so I’m very proud of him for that.”
It’s been an eventful year for Lang. In August he became a first-time father and also earned the Packers’ starting left guard job coming out of training camp.
Last week he was forced to change positions in the middle of the game against the Kansas City Chiefs due to a rash of injuries along the offensive line and must start at right tackle tonight against the Chicago Bears.
It’s not an easy or natural transition, but like everything in his life, Lang is ready for the challenge.
He has drawn strength from his father during this difficult time.
“I remember a couple weeks ago when I went home to visit with him for a few days,” said Lang. “He basically just said, ‘Don’t let this affect you. Go out there and play football. I’ll be fine.’ That gave me some comfort coming back here, no doubt about it.”
Lang said his dad is a fighter, and if anyone is up to the challenge of beating this illness, it’s him.
“He’s a tough S.O.B.,” said Lang. “He’s a stubborn guy at times. He’s a tough guy. He’s fighting this thing the best he can. We’re all praying for the best. We’re all there for each other. We’re hoping we can overcome (this).”
Teammates have also rallied around Lang, who on the day of the diagnosis was consoled on the sidelines during the latter stages of the Packers’ 45-7 victory over the Vikings.
“We’re a family, so we’ll express that we’re available anytime,” said Packers center Scott Wells, who experienced his own personal grief in 2005 when he and his wife lost twins to premature birth.
“He’s done an excellent job of when he’s at work he works, and then he deals with that outside of the workplace,” Wells said of Lang. “Being a guy that’s been through some off the field issues in the past, some tragedy, it’s important to be able to do that and I think he’s done an excellent job of dealing with that in the way he can and continue to play at a high level.”
Lang talks on the phone almost every day with his father, who before the diagnosis was a fixture at Packers home games. He won’t be at Lambeau Sunday night to watch his son play.
“He just had his first round of treatment (Tuesday),” said Lang.
But there was some good news. Tom was feeling well enough to make the car trip with other family members from suburban Detroit to Green Bay for Christmas.
“It’s a fight right now,” said Lang. “It’s a struggle. We’re staying strong as a family. We’ve got a lot of support from my teammates, fans, everybody, which has been just outstanding. We’re going to continue to fight and hope for the best.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.