There are not many people who liken football to oncology, but Dr. Brian Lally is one of the few who does.
Now the chief oncology resident at Yale-New Haven Hospital and the official videographer for the Yale football team, Lally took his love for football off the field and behind the camera after a spinal disease made it impossible for him to continue playing. Since he arrived in the Elm City four years ago, he has taped all but two football games, both home and away.
“The patients who undergo therapy may struggle, just like some of the kids do out on the field,” Lally said. “You always have to listen to the patients and figure out what they’re thinking and what fears they may have. The coaches are trying to put the players in a position where they can win games. Similarly, I am trying to get my patients through therapy to reach their goals and hopefully win.”
Formerly a varsity football player at the University of Pennsylvania, Lally stopped playing after his freshman year when ankylosing spondylitis, a rare spinal disease that causes joint inflammation, finally made competition impossible. So Lally looked for another way to get involved with the team and saw that the coaches did not have much experience behind a video camera. Putting his engineering skills to work, he found taping to be second nature.
“He saved my butt many, many, many a time,” said Rick Flanders, the current Yale defensive line coordinating coach and former Penn football coach. “He would stay there until whenever making sure the tapes were ready for Sunday morning. All I had to do was give him $20 for pizza, and he would stay there all night.”
Even after graduating from Penn in 1993, Lally’s love for football stayed strong. Accordingly, when Lally finished medical school and began his residency in oncology at Yale-New Haven Hospital, he jumped at the chance to do videotaping for the Eli squad.
Lally has also become the team’s handy-man, helping out in any capacity possible. Lally fixes technical problems and gives the team driving directions. He even e-mailed former Yale football captain Dave Sheronas ’93 a run-down of every game during the year Sheronas was stationed with a military unit in Baghdad.
“That’s Brian,” Yale athletics worker Don Scharf ’55 said. “He’s an individual that gives very, very generously with his time. He just feels that he’s not doing anything really that anybody else would not do. He doesn’t really look for any kind of glory or pat on the back.”
Lally said he enjoys his work because his “vice in life is watching good football,” and he is a fan of the way the game is played in the Ivy League.
“The Ivy League puts academics first,” Lally said. “It wants its players to graduate and go on in life and become doctors, lawyers, presidents. That’s what attracts me to the league. If it was just watching football, you could just watch the Patriots or the Jets, but man, they’re boring. I like seeing kids work.”
But if the kids are working, Lally is working just as hard. His ankylosing spondylitis can make it difficult for him to walk and forced him to rely on a cane last year. His busy schedule as chief resident also does not leave him much spare time.
Still, Lally is adamant about the fact that he is not a “cripple,” and that there is nothing that can stand in his way of making sure his team has just what it needs.
“He would wear 15 hats if you allowed him to, and he would do every one of them very well because it means that much to him,” Flanders said.
Lally said he believes a doctor is not just responsible for taking care of his or her patients, but rather, for the community as well. Consequently, he organized Bulldogs Fight Cancer, which will take place Saturday at the football game against Lehigh. Lally and his coworker, Dr. Jonathan Knisely, supervised the distribution of over 7,000 tickets to cancer-stricken patients and their families.
“Where I went to medical school, they teach you that you don’t just look at a patient — you take care of the patient and everything around him,” Lally said. “And that includes the community. Some of the people I’ve met at Yale believe that too.”
The Yale coaching staff has supported Lally in his quest to make Bulldogs Fight Cancer successful and says that the event is merely another indication of Lally’s spirit.
“I think [the event] speaks volumes about Brian as a person,” Yale head football coach Jack Siedlecki said. “He is passionate about everything he does and truly believes he is going to make a difference as a doctor in the fight against cancer.”
Above all, Siedlecki knows he is lucky to have this doctor on the sidelines.
“Two weeks from now, despite the fact that he is a former player and alum, I do not think anyone will be rooting harder for Yale to beat Penn than Doc,” he said.
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