COSTA MESA, Calif. — Chargers coach Brandon Staley embraced Saints tight end Foster Moreau on the field after their teams conducted a joint practice this week, and the two had a picture taken together.
They have gotten familiar with one another through mutual acquaintances and their paths crossing as divisional rivals the past few years when Moreau was playing for the Raiders. But their bond now goes far deeper than football.
Staley was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma when he was a 24-year-old assistant coach at Northern Illinois after already losing his mother to cancer and watching his father battle the disease.
While the coach himself has been cancer-free for more than a decade, he felt an immediate strengthening of his tie with Moreau when the former Raiders tight end publicly revealed a similar diagnosis in March.
“It’s a special connection,” Staley said. “Us sharing that cancer journey. It’s a fraternity that is unlike any other. Playing against him the last couple years, I’ve always respected his game. But when you go through something like that, it’s going to connect you forever.
“To see that he’s out here, playing in the NFL and still living his dream, just all the respect for him and always want to be here for a resource if he ever needs anything.”
Moreau’s story has been well-documented this offseason. The 2019 fourth-round pick of the Raiders spent his first four seasons with the organization before hitting the free-agent market in March. All signs pointed to him signing with his hometown Saints, but a routine physical with team doctors revealed an enlarged lymph node that proved to be cancerous.
“I had to go into almost gameday mode and just try to take in the information without any of the emotions attached,” Moreau said Friday. “It’s early in the morning, and I’m just trying to learn on the fly during the physical. That was obviously a low point.”
But the worst moment of his journey came sometime later when he was on his way to a workout and just broke down. The emotions of the life-altering diagnosis and the realities of how hard the treatment process was going to be and the toll it would take on his body all just started to hit him.
“I was driving to the gym and just thinking, ‘This is terrible. This sucks,’” he recalls.
The next day, he got an encouraging call from his oncologist, who believed Moreau’s subtype of Hodgkin lymphoma may be treatable by less invasive and aggressive means, perhaps allowing him to continue his career without interruption.
Six weeks after his original diagnosis, Moreau was cleared to finally sign with the Saints in May. On July 3, he announced he was in full remission.
He’s now appreciating training camp and the game he loves in a different way than ever before.
“I think initially with the diagnosis and especially during the treatment and into remission, I was just thankful and grateful to be there,” he said. “Thankful to be at the facility and thankful to be in the cold tub. But as it progressed down the line, I realized it wasn’t just about gratitude. That’s a big part of it. But so much more of it is making the most of the opportunities that I’m now afforded because I have a clean bill of health. Through that, I am super grateful and trying to make the most of every day, every second, every play, every moment I get to spend playing this great game.”
It’s not that the 26-year-old didn’t know what he had before. Moreau always enjoyed playing the game and the lifestyle his talent afforded him. But now he sees the value in the less glamorous parts of his job, too.
“I don’t think I ever took it for granted,” he said. “Those things were never lost on me. But I think the tough times, the dog days, the losses, the tough tape sessions. Those were lost on me as moments where that’s a big part of the experience as well. And that’s a big part of growth.”
Moreau even joked during our discussion that I should know as well as anyone that talking about himself and doing interviews about personal matters, and doing so enthusiastically, is fairly new to him. After covering him for four seasons, I can confirm. Moreau has always been thoughtful and personable when the recorders are off, but tended to tone down the personality on the record. He seems different now.
“He’s been awesome,” Saints coach Dennis Allen said. “I don’t know if he’s ever had a bad day just in terms of his mindset and how he attacks everything he does on a daily basis. He just comes out here, works extremely hard and has fun doing it. He’s been a great leader in the locker room and a great addition for us.”
He’s also become more of an asset to a community he never signed up to join.
“Any time I talk about Foster now, you have to talk about what he’s grinded through,” said quarterback Derek Carr, who has played with him for the Raiders and Saints. “And he’s using this new platform to help so many people that nobody knows about. He won’t talk about (it), but as you know, knowing him, he’s an unbelievable guy.”
It’s part of why he has become more accepting of personal interviews, even doing a spot on “Good Morning America.” He doesn’t want to be an inspiration, but understands it’s part of what has been thrust upon him.
So he spreads the message of regular checkups and takes time to talk with others who are going through similar experiences either themselves or with someone in their family.
“I thought the media had its place and I had mine,” he said. “But I have come to the understanding that everything has a purpose, and if I can share my message and just help one person, that would be extremely rewarding. Derek has hooked me up with a couple people he’s close with. Just like when I was first diagnosed, people were trying to help me. It’s a circle of help and a circle of gratitude.”
It’s a huge circle, and one that brought Staley and Moreau together on the practice field.