Broncos coach Gary Kubiak foreshadowed the moment less than a week before it happened. After a season and a half, Cody Latimer’s time was near, he told reporters.
What Kubiak failed to mention, however, was just how big the moment would be — not just for him or his team.
With 11:42 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Broncos’ 17-15 victory at Chicago on Sunday, Latimer caught a 10-yard pass from Brock Osweiler for his first career touchdown. He quickly stood up, folded his arms and posed for fans at Soldier Field as his teammates piled on top of him in celebration.
More than 1,000 miles away, in a room at Children’s Hospital in Aurora that housed 8-year-old Carson Cline, a similar celebration was taking place. To Carson, a cerebral palsy patient, that touchdown and that celebratory pose were worth more than the scoreboard could reflect.
Long before he was a football player, Latimer faced, perhaps, the most trying time in his life. In April 2005, when he was 12, he lost his father to cancer. Colby Latimer, a former linebacker at Bowling Green State, was 38.
After going pro in 2014, Cody launched his personal website where he sells custom T-shirts and donates all proceeds to the American Cancer Society. He also spends some of his off-days at Children’s Hospital, visiting young patients on the oncology ward.
That’s where he requested to be five days before the Broncos’ took on the Bears.
“I have a son on the way and just seeing kids in there and how strong they are — it was something I wanted to be around,” Latimer said.
But the Broncos asked Latimer to make a special stop in another wing of the hospital that day.
On Nov. 6, Carson was admitted to Children’s Hospital and expected to stay six weeks after selective dorsal rhizotomy, a neurospinal surgery that requires cutting sensory nerves in Carson’s spine. The procedure will help him walk flat-footed, ultimately giving him greater mobility. But first he must endure weeks of rehabilitation to re-learn putting one foot in front of the other.
Latimer’s visit was intended to be a surprise as Carson, a diehard Broncos fan, sat in his room wearing his orange No. 88 Demaryius Thomas jersey.
“I saw his jersey and was like, ‘DT is your favorite player, huh?'” Latimer recalled. “I said, ‘You know what? Let me see what he’s doing right now. I’m going to try to Facetime him.’ Luckily, DT answered. It brought a smile to a kid’s face.”
For nearly 30 minutes, Latimer devoted his time to Carson. He signed Carson’s hat, but requested Carson give him his signature, too. He learned of Carson’s journey — the one that included four brain surgeries, one eye surgery and several outpatient procedures before his recent spinal surgery. And he learned of Carson’s lifelong love of the Broncos.
“Where another child would put on cartoons in the morning — this is true — he gets up and puts on the 1997 Super Bowl on demand,’ ” Carson’s mother, Jennifer Cline, said. “It’s crazy.”
Then Latimer posed for photos with Carson. The two sat side-by-side on the edge of Carson’s bed, their arms crossed and heads cocked to the side while donning a “cool guy” look, as Jennifer describes it.
That afternoon, Latimer posted the photo on Instagram.
“He said this is his touchdown pose..,” Latimer’s caption read. “Time for me to start getting in the end zone so he can see it on TV.”
When Latimer left Children’s Hospital the afternoon of Nov. 17, he left behind more than a bag of Broncos gear and a few memories. He left behind a source of hope and motivation for a kid who has endured pain and frustration.
For hours each day Carson endures grueling physical therapy as he works muscles he’s never had to use before and retrains his mind so he can walk.
In the span of a week, Carson has gone from barely being able to sit up to standing on his own for a few seconds at a time. Doctors have told the Clines they expect Carson to be able to walk by the time he goes home in a few weeks, a notion that seems unfathomable to Jennifer now, but one she trusts could happen.
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She’s seen the progress her son has made, and she’s seen the effect Latimer’s visit and his continued interactions with the family have had on Carson’s recovery.
“Most days in therapy he cries for the first 10 minutes or so,” Jennifer said. “But now it’s been, ‘Well, Cody Latimer probably doesn’t cry.’
“Carson will be like, ‘OK, I’m tough.’ “
Before the surgery, Carson had asked that Jennifer sign him up for flag football in the spring. Now the requests are daily. So, too, are the ones to have his therapy sessions filmed and edited in slow motion to post online, just like Latimer does with his workouts on Instagram.
Sunday evening, Latimer posted another image to his Instagram account, this one for Carson. In a split photo of him and Carson posing in his hospital room was one of Latimer, standing in the end zone, his arms folded and head cocked to the side.
“S/O to the lil homie Carson for the touchdown pose I hope you got to see it,” Latimer wrote online. “Great team win!!! Get well soon #broncoscountry”
Nicki Jhabvala: firstname.lastname@example.org or @NickiJhabvala
Carson Cline’s story
— Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 13 months; now 8 years old
— Has undergone four brain surgeries, one eye surgery
— Underwent neurospinal surgery Nov. 6 to help him walk flat-footed
— Is in physical therapy to relearn to stand then walk
— A lifelong Broncos fan who prefers old Super Bowl games over cartoons
— Met Broncos wide receiver Cody Latimer during a hospital visit the week before the Bears game last Sunday
— Latimer’s touchdown pose vs. Bears was one Cline showed him during their visit
— Will remain at Children’s Hospital for another three weeks
— Doctors expect him to walk on his own before leaving hospital