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Pink Warrior eyes comeback

Posted Oct 26, 2012


Amy Woodward with Bengals mascot Who Dey.

You can't tell the players without a scorecard for this one.

That's because Jim Breech has a big and loving blended family with wife Denise that he calls "The Brady Bunch Plus," and somehow they were able to get a few of them in one place Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium.

Technically, Amy Woodward is one of Breech's three stepchildren that go along with his six children, but the only steps he knows are the ones he takes when he kicks a football now and again. And at 56, the Bengals all-time leading scorer can still drill it true from 40 yards, which he did Thursday on an expertly-placed dropkick after Ella grabbed him by the hand and made him go on the nice big green field that looked like day in night.

It is a night like this—gentle, breezy and teeming with companionship—why Breech decided all those years ago to make Cincinnati home. Bred in Sacramento and schooled at the University of California before he broke in with the hometown Raiders, Breech never did make it back to the Bay Area.

"It's a great town," Breech is saying with Ella standing still for a minute. "Cincinnati is one of those cities people don't know how good it is until they spend some time here."

Three-year-old Ella and "Come on Grandpa" are part of the caravan that shepherded Aunt Amy to the award ceremony at PBS, where she received this year's Pink Football Award for beating breast cancer from the Marvin Lewis Community Fund.

Friends. Sisters. Kids. Parents.

It was meant to be. A few years ago family and friends dubbed her "The Pink Warrior" for the way she doggedly remained raising her three children and staying involved in their activities during the all-consuming battle with the disease that took her energy, blood and job.

So it was actually fitting that before going on the field to watch Lewis and some of his coaches lead 450 women through the basics of Football 101 that the Warrior picked up her hardware wearing even more hard hardware.

Back on July 17, just a few months after the doctors said the chemotherapy and radiation had done their due diligence and chased the cancer away, a drunk driver crossed the yellow line in Franklin, Ohio, and smashed into the motorcycle driven by Amy Woodward's husband.

Amy got the worst of it sitting in the back, ejected from the bike with a leg pinned. If you could call it a leg anymore with five compound fractures. Conscious, terrified and thankful that she could see the EMTs at all, she heard them say the doctors would have no shot saving the leg. A bulky metal cast now hides most of the damage.

"Everything's not in line yet. It can't get straightened out until this bone graft heals," she is telling one of the EMTs from Tri Health stationed on the sidelines who came by to see if she needed anything in her wheelchair. "I had it two weeks ago. It's one of six surgeries so far. I was airlifted to Miami Valley and I had three surgeries the night I went in and they saved it."

"It sounds like you've got a great attitude," the EMT is telling her.

"You have to have a good attitude," Amy Woodward is telling him. "I'm a breast cancer survivor, too. I went through that and then this came. If you don’t have a good attitude, you can't do it. There are people who stay home, who don't want to be around people, who stay sick and ill. You can't do it."

She won't do it. When Charlotte Jacobs Simons, her friend who runs the Ben-Gals and Junior Ben-Gals cheerleading squads, nominated her for the award she had one image in mind. About two months after the accident, Woodward wheeled into Junior Ben-Gals practice with 13-year-old daughter Jessica and continued her duties as a parent volunteer. Not a dry eye in the house. Not Simons. Not her fellow coach, Julie Raleigh. Not the 82 girls. She was on the sidelines, too, on Oct. 7 when they performed before the Miami game.

"They let me come out of the tunnel first in my wheelchair and then the girls came running out," Amy Woodward is saying with a smile as she waits in the same tunnel Thursday night for her team to run onto the field to the beat of "Welcome to the Jungle."

She even went to Junior Ben-Gals practice the week she was diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2009 and when Woodward hugged Simons she told her, "I am going to be OK. I am tough. I will fight this."

She had a good example. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in her late 40s, so even though Amy was just 36 in 2009 doctors urged her to get an early exam and they found a lump. Within weeks, she had a lumpectomy and lymph node removal followed by a year of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

"It's so important to get that checkup; especially if there is a family history," Denise Breech is saying, healthy for several years. "You never know. They found my lump and couldn't diagnose it for another year and a half."

Woodward says Denise and Jim Breech turned into part of her shuttle service while she went through 36 rounds of chemotherapy radiation. And there were plenty of places for her and the kids to go in Middletown because Amy remained a room mother and PTA fundraising chair as well as a Girl Scouts troop co-leader and community service coordinator. And last year she joined Relay for Life and is the co-captain of the Hope Hoppers Relay for Life Team.

"Very tough lady; she always has been," Denise Breech says.

Amy Woodward got even tougher when she lost her job. Her employer said she couldn't keep it because of the time she was missing for her treatments and then she found out she couldn't sue because the business isn't big enough. The day she had an interview lined up for another job turned out to be the day before the accident.

"Now I'm on hold again," Amy Woodward says. "Sure, it's tough. There are some days you just wonder. But I'm sure He's not going to give me more than I can't handle."

But because Cincinnati is Cincinnati, some help arrived. A friend of Jim and Denise approached them about a charity golf outing to help Woodward with the mounting medical expenses and Jim immersed himself in getting the event off the ground at Pleasant Hill Golf Club where he lives in Liberty Township.  

If there's anyone who knows how to deliver when the chips are down and crunch time is at hand, why not James Thomas Breech? No one before or since has been perfect on nine overtime field-goal tries.

"The response was unbelievable. I'm so humbled and blown away by the response from friends," Jim Breech is saying of the outing that was a few weeks ago. "Some of the people we didn't even know. To see your friends rally like that means so much. It shows you how much support means to people that need it."

Jim and Denise are grateful for the Junior Ben-Gals and how they've been there for Amy. Not only have they been there for Amy, granddaughter Jessie has been on the squad for five years and they've seen her grow.

"That's a phenomenal group," Jim Breech is saying. "She's gained so much confidence. It's a great activity for young girls to be involved with each other."

Amy Woodward was part of a recent big two-day drug and alcohol awareness program for the group where she testified to the dangers of drunk driving.

"We also have programs for anti-bullying, health, self-esteem," Woodward is saying. "There's a stigma about the dumb blonde cheerleader and we're trying to show the girls that you can be smart, have a career, and still be a cheerleader."

It turns out that Jim Breech has his own cheerleaders as the women for 101 begin to flood the field.

"I have to get a picture with you. You were always my favorite," a lady is saying.

"Probably because we're the same height," laughs the 5-6 Breech.

But he was long in the clutch and that's why the lady took a picture. Amy Woodward has pictures of him in her room devoted to the Bengals and Reds during every stage of his career even though Denise didn't marry him until after he was done playing.

"I had stars in my eyes when I first met him," Woodward says. "But then you get to know him and he becomes a part of your family. My kids are lucky. They have two grandpas."

Grandpa Breech doesn't look all that much different from the day he hit the most famous field goal in Bengals history, the 40-yarder with 3:20 left in Super Bowl XXIII that gave the Bengals a 16-13 lead. Already the analyst, wide receiver Cris Collinsworth greeted Breech off the field with "Great kick, but there's too much time left for (Joe) Montana."  

On Thursday night, time stood still as Breech dropped the 40-yarder through.

"I couldn't be short because Ella was standing right there with her arms up," Breech is saying. "I got it back there pretty good. I think I hit the net."

From her wheelchair, Amy Woodward was already thinking about her own miracle comeback.

"They're saying I can walk in July," The Pink Warrior is saying as she watches the tackling drill. "I'll be out there next year."

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