Ten years ago, the 2011 New York Giants put together their second championship season in four years under head coach Tom Coughlin. On Oct. 15, the coach and his players reunited to tackle another challenge: childhood cancer.
Coughlin is the founder of the Jay Fund, a charity that supports families of children battling the disease. On Friday, at the organization's annual gala in New York City, the 2011 Giants served as honorees for an event that raised $1.6 million.
Since its founding in 1996, the Jay Fund has provided approximately $15 million to more than 5,000 families with children suffering from cancer in the New York City and Jacksonville, Fla. areas, where Coughlin coached the NFL's Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars.
The organization's guiding belief is that the sacrifices made by families of children with cancer are extraordinary — and often overlooked. In a 2019 interview with PEOPLE, Coughlin, citing the National Children's Cancer Society, said dealing with childhood cancer cost a family an average of $833,000, taking into account medical costs and lost wages.
During his keynote speech at the gala, which was attended by about 400 people, Coughlin said that most of the recipients of support from the Jay Fund "started in a tough spot financially."
"Add a cancer diagnosis, and it's just crippling," he said. "Parents don't know how they are going to manage because they have not been blessed with the financial resources that so many of us are fortunate to have. And to compound the matter, the sick child, no matter how old, knows when their parents are stressed, and they understand their diagnosis is the reason. This does not put them in a great mental position for healing. It's a cruel and vicious cycle."
Courtesy Boston College Tom Coughlin and Jay McGillis
The charity is named after Jay McGillis, a college football player who played under Coughlin when he coached Boston College in the early 1990s, who died of leukemia in 1992. Coughlin saw the emotional and financial toll the cancer diagnosis took on McGillis' loved ones — and became determined to help families in that situation.
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During his speech at the gala, Coughlin said, "I can't imagine the heartbreak that each parent goes through. You have a young child that is sicker than they have ever been in their life because of treatment or because of the disease. And the emotions that you go through are there 24/7 for each member of the family."
"Taking care of a child who has been diagnosed with cancer," said Coughlin, "is a work of love."
"Love" is a theme that would resonate with the 2011 Giants: By that season, the famously hard-driving Coughlin was in the latter part of his 20 years as an NFL head coach. By then, he had evolved: He was as intense as ever, but he'd learned the culture of sports had evolved, and that it was important to have closer interpersonal relationships with his players. In his speech to his team the night before they beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, he the players he loved them. On Friday, he repeated the sentiment.
Jodi Crandell Michael Boley, Victor Cruz, Chris Canty, Mark Herzlich, Kevin Boothe, Adrian Tracy
Jodi Crandell Zak DeOssie, Tom Coughlin
"The way you came together as a team is everything and all a coach could ever hope for. I said it 10 years ago, and I will say it again, I love you guys," he said, and the room rose for a standing ovation.
The Most Valuable Player award-winner in that Super Bowl was Eli Manning. For the gala, Manning donated $23,000 and asked attendees to cumulatively double that contribution in honor of the number 46, for the Super Bowl. They did.
Indeed, many of the players on the 2007 and 2011 Giants championship teams have since become boosters for the Jay Fund. The bond forged between the coach and his players has endured in the charity's work.
Addressing his players at the gala, Coughlin said, "Thank you for being champions on and off the field, and, for over a decade, supporting the work of the Jay Fund and the families we serve."