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A Good Cause


Sherm Lewis calls Chmura "the best blocking tight end I've ever coached"

Green Bay Packers tight end Mark Chmura explodes into linebacker Seth Joyner under training camp sunlight, his huge forearms pressing in perfect position next to Joyner's arm sockets, hips squared and fired, legs wide and pumping furiously.

"He's probably the best blocking tight end I've coached," Packers offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis says. "Chewy's probably the best all-around tight end, too."

Not bad, coming from a man who has coached Brent Jones, John Frank and Keith Jackson.

"He's worked on his blocking technique," says Lewis, "getting bigger and stronger. He's able to make contact and maintain contact. And, he can block defensive ends."

Indeed, in Super Bowl XXXII, Chmura, at 6' 5" and 255 pounds, neutralized 270-pound Denver defensive ends Neil Smith and Alfred Williams.

But there is one thing Chmura hasn't been able to block, and it frustrates him. Neurofibromatosis.

It's a disease his 13-year-old friend Chris Byrka has. Chris has a learning disability and curvature in his spine as a result. He is high-risk for tumors, and has several bumps that could become malignant.

Chmura has visited the Byrka family for six years, and plays golf on a team with Chris at two celebrity tournaments that bear Chmura's name. One tournament last May raised $150,000 for the Neurofibromatosis Foundation. When Chmura was the Packers' 'NFL Man of the Year' in 1996, he donated $5,000 to the Foundation. He later flew other Green Bay players out to the tournament at his own expense and donated another $15,000.

"It's a huge amount for someone who has no affiliation to the disease," says Chris' father, Joe Byrka. "His second year at Green Bay, Mark said, 'When I make it in football, I'm going to make sure you make it, too.' And that's what he's done for us, out of the goodness of his heart."

Chris is doing well, Joe says. In fact, the father said how proud he was that Chmura and his son took second place at the last tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Joe says that his son has the same positive attitude Chmura has taken to the football field.

"Chris saw all these people who were very sick," Joe says, "and asked me, 'Can this happen to me?' I said yes, but that's why we're holding these tournaments - to find a cure. He said, 'Oh. I know we will.' He doesn't change his approach."

Chmura says the reason he helps the Byrkas and other children is simple.

"My parents taught me to treat others like you would want to be treated, and to have discipline," says Chmura.

Chmura's attitude helped the sixth-round pick get beyond a back injury suffered early in his 1992, rookie season. Now he's a Pro Bowl player.

"Double blocking, reach blocking, drive blocking - he can do it all," Lewis says. "And he's a tremendous receiver."

Chmura says he worked on improving his flexibility during this past offseason.

"You can always get better," he says.

His quarterback - and best friend - maintains that Chmura is invaluable.

"We've played together for eight years," says Brett Favre. "Imagine how many plays that is. And we've spent a ton of time talkin' football off the field. It's second nature. We get to the line and I can yell, 'Chewy,' and he thinks, 'Uh-oh,' and knows it's coming to him and what I'm thinking, just from the route."

Chmura is Joe Byrka's MVP, too.

"A lot of times you have more effect on the parents," Chmura says. "I have kids, and that would be a tough thing to go through. The best part is the impact you can have, and the money you can raise to help."

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