'A Day Off From Cancer': Football Fun and Ice Cream at Legendary NFL Coach’s Charity Event
The foundation is named after Jay McGillis, who played under Tom Coughlin at Boston College and died of Leukemia at 21
For one day, the children had the run of MetLife Stadium, where the NFL’s New York Giants and Jets play.
They went into the locker room and tried on equipment worn by the players. They met former Giants legends, who sported their huge, diamond-encrusted Super Bowl championship rings. They ate all the ice cream they could.
For the kids and their families, the late May event — called the Sundae Blitz — was “a day off from cancer.”
“We want to show them they’re special — they’re very, very special kids,” says Coughlin, 72, who, after winning two Super Bowls with the Giants, is now an executive vice president with the Jacksonville Jaguars. “Other kids in the 4th or 5th grade, they can’t get to the Giants’ facility. They can’t get into the locker room. But these kids can.”
Coughlin adds, “[There’s] no needles, nobody putting them through pain. And parents have a day to take a deep breath and watch their kids have a big smile on their face.”
Since the inception of the Jay Fund in 1996, it has granted $11 million to 5,000 families with children suffering from cancer. The organization’s guiding belief is that the sacrifices made by families of children with cancer are extraordinary and often overlooked.
Coughlin points out that according to the National Children’s Cancer Society, the average cost of treating childhood cancer is $833,000. “Can you imagine how a regular family can handle that?” he says.
The original patient was Jay McGillis, a college football player when Coughlin was the head coach of the Boston College Eagles in the early 1990s. In his 50-plus years in the sport, Coughlin has never admired a player more than the safety from Brockton, Massachusetts. Tough but humble. A college coach’s dream, who knew the playbook backward and forward and never missed a class.
He got the Leukemia diagnosis during the 1991 season and was gone eight months later, at 21. McGillis’ courage as his body withered away stuck with Coughlin forever. So did the love his family showed as they sat vigil by his hospital bed for months, with their finances depleting and their energy poured into caring for their son.
Coughlin is a famously hard-driving, intense coach, and watching McGillis die was a life-changing experience. He and his players organized a fundraising campaign and presented a check to the family during the school’s annual spring practice game. Coughlin vowed to his wife Judy that if he was ever in a position to give back, he would do so in the name of Jay McGillis.
That first year, the Jay Fund raised $36,000 — “and we thought we were doing great,” says Coughlin. Last year, it raised $1.7 million, going to families in the New York and Jacksonville area.
“There isn’t one member of those families that doesn’t know the name of Jay McGillis,” says Coughlin, adding that McGillis’ mother recently told him her son didn’t die in vain.
The foundation’s signature event is the Sundae Blitz. For the families, many of whom have spent nights sleeping in hospital rooms, it’s a chance to connect with others with similar experiences. “The big thing is they realize they’re not alone,” says Coughlin.
For the kids, the event provides pure joy for those who deserve it most. Coughlin enthusiastically describes memories from the event of kids running on the stadium field, fantasizing about being their favorite football players.
“And you know what they’re thinking: They’re thinking they’re going to score. They’re making a play in MetLife Stadium that’s going to beat the Dallas Cowboys. You can’t help but smile.”
More information about the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation can be found at Tcjayfund.org.