There has never been an NFL player good enough to win games without the help of teammates. Former Tennessee Titans All-Pro defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth is expressing gratitude to a teammate he’d never met until he needed him most in the game of life.
Haynesworth was running out of options while dealing with a serious medical condition when a stranger stepped up to become what the retired NFL player calls his “living angel.”
Albert Haynesworth played 10 NFL seasons
Haynesworth’s NFL career after coming out of the University of Tennessee in 2002 lasted 123 games over 10 seasons. Realistically, most football fans recall the two-time All-Pro only for a single incident. It cost him a five-game suspension, but he followed up by elevating his level of play like never before.
It all started on Oct. 1, 2006, when Haynesworth took out his frustration over a Dallas Cowboys touchdown by stomping on the helmet of offensive lineman Andre Gurode. The force of the blow dislodged Gurode’s helmet from his head and earned Haynesworth an ejection.
Even Haynesworth knew he’d strayed far over the line. He apologized to Gurode the next day and did not appeal the suspension handed down by the NFL. He didn’t do much in the final seven games of the season, but Haynesworth was a changed man beginning the following season.
Over the next two years, he piled up 14.5 of the 30.5 sacks he totaled for his entire career. He also logged his two highest season totals for quarterback hits and registered his best two-season total for tackles.
That earned Haynesworth the only two first-team All-Pro honors of his career.
Retirement, followed by health problems
Haynesworth played his first seven seasons with the Titans and then two with Washington, during which time he quickly fell out of favor with coach Mike Shanahan. He split the 2011 season between New England and Tampa Bay and then left the sport.
After complaining of a severe headache in October 2014, Haynesworth learned that he had suffered two aneurysms that required surgery and hospitalized him for 11 days. He faced a new health crisis in 2019 that led to the recent dramatic turn of events.
Feeling dizzy and struggling to breathe, Haynesworth drove himself to a hospital. Tests showed his lungs had filled with so much fluid it blocked his airways. Additional testing showed signs of kidney failure, requiring him to begin an immediate dialysis regimen.
The three dialysis sessions a week allowed Haynesworth, who turns 40 in June, to maintain somewhat of a normal routine, but finding a compatible donor for a transplant became the focus. Even under optimal conditions, the process of matching a donor to a patient can take close to two years.
A ‘living angel’ comes forward to help
According to The Tennessean, Haynesworth refers to Zach Penny as his “living angel,” and his reason is understandable. Penny, 29, drove seven hours from Crossett, Arkansas, to Nashville to donate one of his kidneys to the retired player on April 15.
Haynesworth remained hospitalized two weeks later, but he shared a picture on Instagram of himself and Penny, a physical therapist assistant, while updating the recent developments.
“So I would like the world to meet what a real living Angel looks like,” he wrote. “Everyone please say hello to my donor @packzenny. This kind hearted selfless human being drove seven hours from Arkansas to give me one of his kidneys! This is one of the happiest days of my life next to the birth of my kids. We need more people in this world like Zach. I’m striving to be like him.”
Seeing Haynesworth doing well in his recovery brought joy to Penny.
“Of course, I knew he was going to be thankful because it’s such a big deal,” he told the newspaper. “But I felt relieved that it was good; that it was a successful surgery. His body was able to accept the kidney. And it makes it even better now to see … him up and moving and talking with much joy.”
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.