A Tribute from Kristen Carnazza

It's hard to describe Michael LaViola using words. He was the type of guy whose actions spoke louder.

 

As an Old Tappan resident, Mike was a local celebrity. He came from the nicest family in town and always greeted people with hugs and handshakes. Mike was best known for always having a smile on his face and if you were in need of cheering up, Mike was the person to see. It was impossible to be in a bad mood while in his presence.

Like most guys, Mike liked sports, cars and girls. Mike especially loved football and the New York Giants. He loved playing with his buddies on the high school football team and spent most of his time driving and improving his dream car. As for girls, well, Mike was a lovable guy. He stood out from the crowd because he was good-looking, well mannered and chivalrous; qualities that were a direct result of good parenting.

Mike may have been a handsome football player but he wasn't your average teenager. While every other teen worried about pimples and prom, Mike worried about others. He spent his free time as a volunteer firefighter. That was the thing about Mike; he cared about everyone, not just his friends and family but even those he didn't know. Mike was always willing to help out.

During football season of his senior year, Mike was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Physically, Mike was a strong guy, built to withstand the weight of large football players. But Mike was about to find out just how strong he really was.

Mike lived his life to the fullest. Mike's motto was "Never, never, never give up." He continued hanging out with friends, working on his car and keeping tabs on his favorite football team, the New York Giants. Despite his illness, there was never a change in Mike's personality. He still greeted everyone with hugs and handshakes and now they were even more enthusiastic. He kept his friends and family at the top of his priority list. Although Mike had his own troubles, that never stopped him from helping his friends through theirs. He always gave good advice and stayed optimistic throughout his entire battle.

At the end of his senior year, regardless of the setbacks, Mike walked with his senior class at his High School Graduation. When his name was called, Mike accepted his diploma to the sound of a standing ovation. Mike had overcome all his obstacles thus far and college was next on his list. He wasn't about to let his illness keep him from doing the things he planned. After high school, Mike entered Bergen Community College.

In 2007, the Make-A-Wish foundation granted Mike's wish. He had wished to have his car re-done, a project Mike had been working on for a while but hadn't been able to finish.  That December, Mike's car was as good as new and it made him the happiest he'd been in a while. Now, if only the Giants could win the Super Bowl.
 
Mike fought through the New Year but on February 2nd of 2008, Michael LaViola passed away. He was four months from his 21st birthday and less than 24 hours from seeing his favorite NFL team take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. The LaViolas and the town Old Tappan had been hit with devastation. It didn't seem fair that someone as great as Mike could be taken at such a young age.

On Super Bowl Sunday, millions crowded around televisions all over the country. Old Tappan watched in hopes that the Giants would win on behalf of Mike.

In the fourth quarter, the Patriots had been winning with only 2 minutes left. For a few moments it seemed that the Patriots might win, but someone, somewhere thought differently. With a minute and fifteen seconds remaining, the Giants released the ball to quarterback, Eli Manning. Manning watched as his opponents quickly closed in. For a moment Manning was lost amongst the crowd but suddenly reappeared, ball in hand, and made a pass that put some announcers at a loss for words. As the Ball flew through the air and conveniently landed in the right hand of David Tyree, Tyree pinned the ball to his helmet to complete the pass and the play that would go down in NFL history. With the help of one more play, the Giants won the game but what baffled viewers was, what ESPN now calls "The Great Catch".

The play seemed impossible. Football fans all over the country joked that the play was the "obvious work of an angel" and that may be exactly what it was. That angel must have been a Giants fan.

They say that God does everything for a reason and looking back it's easy to see why God wanted Michael. Somewhere in heaven there was a list of all the things Mike has done for others and all the people he's touched. Michael was the perfect applicant for the position of "angel."

Well, position filled.

© 2018 Michael LaViola Foundation  |  Dedicated to funding research for Pediatric Sarcomas.