Could Nate Solder walk away from football after Super Bowl LII?

February 1, 2018 GMT

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Nate Solder’s New England Patriots teammates admire his strength through what has been a trying few years.

Yes, the Patriots have won two of the past three Super Bowls and are going for their third title in a four-year span on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. Solder, who turns 30 in April, is the Patriots’ highest-priorty free agent, and if he doesn’t re-sign there will be a long line of other teams who will be waiting to roll out the red carpet for the top-shelf left tackle who has ably protected Tom Brady’s blind side for most of the past seven seasons.

But Solder and his family had their lives indellibly changed when his 2-year-old son, Hudson, was diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer at only 3 months old in 2015. The year prior Solder himself was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He and his wife, Lexi, have spent most of the past few years questioning everything but fighting back with everything they have.

Solder’s teammates, especially those who line up to the right of him on the Patriots’ offensive line, have marveled at his strength amid adversity, even suffering a torn biceps that ended his 2015 season prematurely.

But for Solder, all he sees is his own weakness throughout all of it.

“I don’t think I have been that strong through any of it,” he said on Tuesday. “I have been scared, timid, weak, very selfish ...

“Tthese are some of the qualities I have, and I think God has carried us through it all.”

Don’t confuse that for a lack of hope, however. Solder delivered some good news on Tuesday: Hudson has been showing signs of improvement. He and his sister, Charlie, are in Minnesota for the Super Bowl, and though they won’t attend the game, they’ll be in good hands with grandma and grandpa during it.

“Everything is going really well [with Hudson],” he said. “He is still [receiving] chemotherapy, and it is progressing the way [doctors] have hoped.”

More so than his own battle with cancer, it was Hudson’s diagnosis that changed his and Lexi’s perspective. Going through his own battle did not in any way prepare him for hearing such shocking news about his son — and at such a young age.

“It has reoriented my priorities with my family being right at the top of things,” he said. “I think it does put things in perspective, but you don’t not appreciate what you have and the opportunities you are given, and I am so thankful for everything.”

In fact, that could include Solder walking away from football while he’s still in his prime. Maybe temporarily, perhaps permanently. PFW reported earlier in the 2017 season that Solder would consider retirement after this season, in lieu of free-agent riches, and we asked him Tuesday about whether he still would consider Super Bowl LII perhaps being his final NFL game.

“I haven’t thought about it,” Solder told me. “I really enjoy playing the game of football. It’s been such a pleasure. You never know what kind of opportunities [there are]. I have this opportunity now, what I have been given, and I’ll worry about that later.”

Patriots center David Andrews hopes Solder stays with the Patriots. Andrews admits that’s his selfish desire but that he completely understands Solder’s situation, even if he can’t fully relate himself.

“I look up to Nate a lot,” Andrews said. “I don’t have kids, so I can’t imagine what this has been like for him. But just to see Nate’s approach each day with that professionalism, and at the same time keeping things at home, I’ve always looked up to that and admired that.”

During the grind of the season, Solder has no days off — and his time with Hudson, Charlie and Lexi are treasured moments. Players typically have Tuesdays away from the team facility, and the Solders scheduled Hudson’s chemo treatments on those days. So on a day when many players are unwinding, Solder is making the drive to the Jimmy Fund Clinic in Boston with his son and then returning home late at night to take care of football duties, such as watching tape and getting ready for the week and the game ahead.

Sunday is the final game of the NFL season. It has been a long one that included a slow start by the Patriots when many doubted their ability to make another miracle run. That was one thing entirely. But the midseason news that Hudson had suffered a setback made the football part even harder.

The good news is that Hudson is doing better, and Solder says he can enjoy these moments for what they are. He said his teammates’ unending support has been a big reason why he’s been able to make it to this point.

“Those guys have wrapped their arms around me and help me through this stuff,” Solder said, “and I am so thankful to them and the coaches and everybody who has helped me.”

Solder was asked what making yet another Super Bowl — now his fourth — means to him.

“I’m so honored, so blessed, so thankful,” he said, espousing his own religious faith as the other big pillar, along with family and football, in his life. Whether he gives up the football part after Sunday remains unknown. But it’s clear that if he does walk away to spend more time caring for Hudson, it will be with those other two pillars in mind.

“There were times we were on our knees praying, crying, and it was God who carried us through those things,” he said.

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