by Mickey Smith
A week after standing on the sidelines with the New York Giants, Adam Merchant Jr. (AJ) had a chance to regale his friends with tales from the huddle. Leaving his dad, Adam Sr, to talk about their trip of a lifetime, courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Fifteen year old AJ was discovered to have Burkitt’s lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer last March. Adam said they thought at first it was chronic appendicitis but it turned out to be a tumor in his abdomen. The fast acting cancer was already in stage 3, so he was immediately started on chemotherapy. Adam said AJ was treated at the Fletcher Allen Heath Center’s Children’s Hospital and they did an excellent job. The cancer has since gone into remission and AJ’s life is starting to get back to normal other than the check ups to make sure he remains cancer free. He said he has even been cleared to play football again next fall.
Adam said AJ was told he could choose anything for a wish, and AJ’s first thought was of a trip to something the whole family could enjoy like Disney World. Adam said he liked the idea of something the whole family could enjoy. But they talked to him, and told him the rest of the family wanted him to choose something that he would want... leading to a trip to see his favorite football team, the New York Giants play and an experience both AJ and the New York Giants may never forget.
Originally the Merchants were going to see the Giants play the Pittsburgh Steelers a few weeks ago, but Hurricane Sandy put a kibosh on those plans and instead they wound up in New York City last weekend to see the struggling Giants play the very hot Green Bay Packers.
Adam said they flew down to New York City on Thursday and just as soon as AJ stepped off the plane and saw people wearing Giants wear that he knew he was in the right place. Adam said AJ knows in Vermont he’s a New York fan in the midst of New England Patriot country. They were able to go to practice on Friday and AJ got a chance to be in the huddle with the team at the end of practice. He was given an opportunity to speak to the team, and uttered the now famous plea for them to play like the World Champions they are. After winning the Super Bowl last February, the Giants are leading the NFC East, but had lost two games in a row going into the game against the Packers. The simple plea from AJ became a rallying cry for the team, and after the game Head Coach Tom Coughlin told reporters it became the theme of all their meetings.
After practice, AJ got a chance to have lunch with the players. During that time a lot of players came up to him and talked with him. Those having lunch at that time signed a football for him and he received a Jason Pierre-Paul jersey. Adam said Pierre-Paul is one of AJ’s favorite players because of his athletic ability and he received a jersey with Pierre-Paul’s number 90 on it. But, he added, by game time on Sunday Justin Tuck was becoming a favorite, as Tuck spent a lot of time talking with AJ.
On Sunday, they were guests of the team and watched the first quarter from the sidelines. After that, they moved up to second row seats right near the Giants sideline. The Giants played like world champions, turning back the Packers 38-10. The ESPN recap of the game begins with mentioning AJ’s wish.
In a very rare move, AJ was invited into the locker room after the game. Adam said they were told that almost never happens. But AJ was back in the middle of the huddle, and again he was receiving gifts from some very appreciative players. Osi Umenyiora gave him a game ball and Justin Tuck gave him his game worn jersey.
Adam said AJ “had a blast,” noting after they attended the practice AJ told him it was more than he had expected... and this was before the game even started.
In interviews after the game, several players including quarterback Eli Manning were quoted as saying the fact AJ chose to come see them struck a nerve and made them all think. Adam was still being talked about the next night on the weekly Monday Night Football game.
Once home, Adam’s time as a celebrity continued, as he was interviewed by the Burlington TV stations, the Barre Times Argus and WLVB and a Google search of his name brings up stories from all around about the game.