Emotional Moment As USFL Coach With Rare Spinal Condition Runs Onto Field After Being Told He May Never Walk Again

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As the 2023 USFL season got underway over the weekend, John DeFilippo did something that he had always dreamed about and ran onto the field as a head football coach. It was a moment that was way bigger than sports.

Head coach John DeFilippo of the New Orleans Breakers watches from the sidelines during the game against the Pittsburgh Maulers at Protective Stadium on April 16, 2023 in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo by Andy Lyons/USFL/Getty Images)

Coach Flip, as he is known by his players, is a journeyman. The 45-year-old began his career at Fordham in 2000 after graduating James Madison and got things started as the quarterbacks coach.

From there, it has been a whirlwind.

  • Notre Dame — Grad Assistant
  • Columbia — QBs Coach
  • New York Giants — Offensive quality control coach
  • Oakland Raiders — QBs coach
  • New York Jets — Assistant QBs coach
  • San Jose State — QBs coach, offensive coordinator
  • Oakland Raiders — QBs coach
  • Cleveland Browns — Offensive coordinator
  • Philadelphia Eagles — QBs coach
  • Minnesota Vikings — Offensive coordinator
  • Jacksonville Jaguars — Offensive coordinator
  • Chicago Bears — Quarterbacks coach, passing game coordinator

Although DeFilippo has called offenses on the highest level of professional football, he never got the chance to be a head coach. Until now.

DeFilippo was hired as the head coach of the New Orleans Breakers last November. That title in itself made for a proud moment as he took the field for Week 1 on Sunday.

It goes deeper than that.

DeFilippo was diagnosed with a rare condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis earlier this year. Although doctors believe that he was born with the condition, it really took a toll on his life around Christmas time.

His foot and back were hurting, and the pain only continued to get worse. Doctors couldn’t determine the root at first, and DeFilippo spent six days at the Mayo Clinic. Two doctors told him that he may never walk unassisted again.

Eventually, after countless MRIs and testing, the Ankylosing Spondylitis diagnosis was determined. In short, it is an inflammatory disease that can cause spinal vertebrae to fuse over time. It makes it very difficult for DeFilippo to walk, let alone run.

That wasn’t going to stop him.

DeFilippo vowed, upon the diagnosis, to run out onto the field before his first game as head coach. No matter what it took.

And on Sunday, he did just that. DeFilippo, while fighting through pain and tears, ran onto the field as a head coach for the first time. The emotional moment was one that he will not soon forget.

To make the evening even more special, New Orleans beat Pittsburgh by seven. DeFilippo is 1-0.

It was close for a second—

But the Breakers pulled it off. Not only did DeFilippo run onto the field like he promised, he won!

Written by Grayson Weir

Grayson doesn't drink coffee. He wakes up Jacked.

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