Former NFL and Penn State defensive tackle Brandon Noble talks about being "on the edge of the abyss."
A few times, actually.
Which makes his part to help lift spirits during the coronavirus pandemic so perfectly placed.
Noble, who played seven seasons in the NFL, was easing into the restaurant business with a friend in Exton, Pennsylvania. when the coronavirus changed everything. Suddenly, their Bright Spot Cafe would be shuttered unless it changed operation modes.
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Within days, the small, sit-down restaurant reformatted into a takeout and delivery option, which opened this give-back opportunity.
It started when a customer reached out, wanting to buy dinner for the emergency room nurses at the Chester County Hospital. So Bright Spot prepared double the amount of food purchased, then made the surprise delivery.
Word got around on social media.
And calls and email began streaming in from others wanting to donate meals, too.
So far, they've provided about 1,500 meals to health care workers with the requests growing, Noble said. From packaged breakfast sandwiches and quiches to meatballs, meatloafs and macaroni and cheese.
Noble is helping healthcare professionals after experiences of his own. He has undergone enough surgeries — and a few catastrophic health situations. He jokes about taking so many antibiotics that doctors eventually "got to the special ones in the closet, like the ones, 'In case of emergency, break glass.'"
It all began 25 years ago when an extreme case of mononucleosis at Penn State began shutting down his liver.
Then came two MRSA infections during his time in the NFL. He nearly lost a leg from the first one. He threw two embolisms in his lungs and nearly lost his life with the second.
After his playing career ended, he said a ruptured appendix began to turn gangrenous before he was finally was rushed to the hospital.
"It's an unfortunate part of being a football player; you're mentally conditioned to play through all of the pain," said Noble, who turned 46 this week.
"When you play football you believe you're indestructible."
He's learned, time and again, the finer details of how quickly life can turn dire — long before the COVID-19 outbreak put a hold on his high school coaching and his work in sports broadcasting.
After his own scares, his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago.
They know hospitals and health care workers better than most.
Which is another reason why how he's helping now fits so well.
The cafe will match the amount spent on any order.
Of course, it helps that a bearded, over-sized, fun-loving football player does a lot of the deliveries.
Noble gets a taste of the appreciation from the doctors and nurses when he does the drop-offs (while wearing a protective mask and gloves).
The same kind of people who pulled him from the edge of the abyss one time after another.
The ones who helped his wife become cancer-free and ultimately return to triathlon training.
"It just gives them a little joy in their day," Noble said. "Food makes people smile. Especially good food."
With all of his previous health scares, Noble would seem to carry a greater risk for contracting a serious form of COVID-19.
He shrugged that off after emphasizing that he's abiding by sanitizing and prevention recommendations.
Doing his small part means a lot to him now.
Which goes back to what he learned during his five years at Penn State.
"That's what Joe (Paterno) was always big on. It wasn't about football," Noble said. "It was what kind of person you'd become down the road. What kind of father, what kind of husband, what kind of leader in your community.
"We're doing something good right now. We're taking care of people. ... Just something I can do to help the people who are fighting the battle."