Monday, November 26, 2012

Teen battling illness spurs Giants to rout over Packers

A nervous 15-year-old young man battling cancer sat in the New York Giants locker room after Friday's practice and suddenly became the biggest person in the room full of ... well ... Giants. 

After the final practice before the Giants faced the Green Bay Packers, Adam Merchant had the huge task of offering a few encouraging words to his favorite team.

Merchant, wearing a Jason Pierre-Paul jersey and Giants ski cap, was personally asked by head coach Tom Coughlin to address the Super Bowl champions after the NFL team had lost two consecutive games. 

The emotional words hit the team harder than a JPP quarterback sack and the Giants went on to rout the Packers, 38-10, Sunday night.

With his Burkitt's Lymphoma in remission, Merchant was able to travel to East Rutherford from Barre, Vt., thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, after the Giants had fallen into their November swoon.  

Being asked to speak to the players was a dream come true but the young man was understandably overwhelmed by the moment.  The Giants players understood.

"It can be kind of nerve-racking to come talk to your favorite team," said Eli Manning — who seemed to return to his old self and even plowed into a defensive back instead of sliding on one play.

That's a toughness Merchant can relate to.  He was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma — a rare and aggressive B-cell lymphoma that affects children — in March and has been undergoing chemotherapy treatment since.

While the Giants took his message to heart, young Adam was awed by the reaction of the players after he was done talking — "They freaked out" — and could take pride in the knowledge that his words played a big part in the victory after he watched the game from the sidelines with his brother and father.

"Certain people can say that," his new pal Justin Tuck said later.  "But when you see this innocent kid say you've got to play like a champion ... I told him he needs to get into motivational speaking because he inspired us."

After the game, the experience got even better.  Merchant was invited into the locker room and was part of the celebratory team huddle.

"He could have gone anywhere in the world (with his wish)," said Osi Umenyiora.  " But he chose to come here."

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