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Browns punter Andy Lee to honor late daughter with new jersey number

The idea came to Andy Lee shortly after he learned he was on the move for the first time in his 12-year NFL career.

This would be a fresh start in Cleveland for the three-time Pro Bowl veteran punter, and it would be one that included a lasting tribute to his daughter Madelyn.

Lee won't wear the No. 4 he sported during his 11 seasons with the 49ers. Instead, he'll wear No. 8, representing the number of days Madelyn lived before she passed away from post-birth complications.

"I think sometimes, not necessarily by me and my wife, her life can get overlooked. She was here, she was a person but nobody got to meet her, nobody got to see her," Lee said. "She was really alive and really a person. It's a way to honor her and kind of just give her some glory she deserves."

Lee's wife, Rachel, gave birth to Madelyn, their third child, on Jan. 27, one month after Lee attempted what would be his final punt in a 49ers uniform. On her way out via C-section, Madelyn swallowed some fluid. She struggled to breathe, was promptly given a breathing tube and was placed in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Because it was flu season, only Rachel and Lee were allowed inside the NICU to see her.

Madelyn's condition briefly improved but adversity hit on the fifth day when she came down with an infection. This was a battle she couldn't win.

"From there," Lee said, "the infection just pretty much took over her body and she passed away."

An already close family, the Lee's have grown even closer as they've grieved Madelyn's death. The trade, which sent Lee to Cleveland for an undisclosed draft pick, brought them closer in distance, too, with his family -- Rachel, 5-year-old Ryan and 3-year-old Adam -- living just a quick flight away in his native Charlotte.

The pain is still fresh, but Lee is quick to point to "blessings that have come out of the horrible situation."

"It's just kind of changed the mindset of, say, your son's outside and you don't feel like getting up and throwing the ball with him because you're tired. Well, get your butt up and go out there and do it because who knows?" Lee said. "You give everything you can to them because it shows that sometimes you don't know if something is going to happen.

"It's crazy how life is. In a way, that's one of the positive things to come out of it. Life is really fragile even though sometimes you don't think about it that way."

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