Ravens-Steelers Scuffle Helped Save A Life

Birk and Oher knocked referee Tony Corrente on his back, leading to a key discovery.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Categories: Ryan Mink

The Ravens and Steelers get into countless tussles when they play each other.

One such scuffle may have saved NFL referee Tony Corrente’s life.

In a story told by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King in Monday Morning Quarterback, Corrente was one of the game officials when the Steelers traveled to M&T Bank Stadium on Sept. 11.

Corrente was breaking up Ravens center Matt Birk and right tackle Michael Oher from Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley and safety Ryan Mundy when he got shoved out of the scrum and fell on his back and head.

Corrente felt pain afterwards and began taking Motrin on the recommendation of a fellow referee.

Because Motrin is a natural blood-thinner, Corrente brought up blood when he began coughing later that day and for the following week. That prompted him to consult a physician.

Doctors found a mass at the base of his tongue. Corrente was diagnosed with throat cancer.

The quick diagnosis allowed him to avoid surgery that would have risked his speaking ability. Corrente is now undergoing his second round of chemotherapy, and is still refereeing (he was at the Saints-Lions wild-card game Saturday night).

But before he did that, he felt he owed Birk and Oher a thank you for the literal push to the doctor.

Corrente sought out Head Coach John Harbaugh before his regular-season finale in Cincinnati on New Year’s Day, and asked if he could speak with Birk and Oher briefly. He told Harbaugh and the players his emotional story and extended his gratitude.

“I told them, ‘I just wanted to tell you that you actually may have saved my life,’” Corrente told King. “I could see they were shocked as I explained it. This crazy ref was thanking them because they knocked him on his butt.’”

“Mind-blowing is a good word,” Birk said on Monday. “You know, the guy says half-jokingly, but half-serious, that we saved his life. It’s kind of like, ‘Well, no.’

“I just came back to that you never know how God is going to use you. And here Mike and I just thought we were probably just being tough guys, getting in a little scuffle after a play, but everything happens for a reason.”

Harbaugh called it a “stunning story.” After the Ravens clinched the division title, Birk flew back to Maryland and woke up his wife to tell her.

He said the one thing he’ll take away from that conversation for the rest of his life was that Corrente said people shouldn’t try to look at their life as “glass half full.” They should look at it as all-the-way full.

“I just thought that was awesome, and certainly talking to him, it was a very humbling experience. I don’t know him that personally, but he sure seems like a heck of a guy,” Birk said.

“My family and I have prayed for him and his recovery, and I’m just glad I was a part of it.”

Funny enough, Corrente’s crew called Oher for holding during the Week 17 game against the Bengals.

“How about a free pass?” Birk joked. “That’s the NFL, huh? You saved a guy’s life. Come on!”

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