Stefan Hard / Staff Photo
New York Giants fan Adam Merchant Jr., 15, of Barre, and his parents, Heather and Adam Sr., display some of the autographed Giants items he acquired while visiting the team to fullfill his dreams through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The younger Merchant has Berkitt’s lymphoma, a cancer that affects the lymphatic system.
Credit a kid from Vermont, whose last best carefree memory may have been watching his favorite football team — the New York Giants — nip the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl this year, with reminding his gridiron heroes just who they are and what they are supposed to be made of.
That’s right, a Green Mountain boy — this one 15 and currently winning his battle with cancer — gave “Big Blue” a talking to in the run-up to their Sunday night game against the Green Bay Packers.
By all accounts it was a short but effective speech. One that the late, great Vince Lombardi might have appreciated despite the fact that his Packers got spanked by a Giants team that was motivated after being reminded by a quiet boy from Barre that they brought home the trophy with Lombardi’s name on it back in February.
It is a story that Adam Merchant Jr. — “A.J.” to the folks in his family — may never grow tired of telling, and that’s saying something for a boy who has told it, retold it and then told it again since time mercifully expired on the Giants’ 38-10 drubbing of the visiting Packers at the Meadowlands on Sunday night.
“I’ve told it many times,” said Merchant, who was at the game, prowling the sidelines in the first quarter and celebrating in the locker room after it was over.
“It was amazing,” he said of the experience. “It’s a dream to do what I’ve done these past few days.”
Make that a wish, because that is precisely what earned Merchant, who was diagnosed with Stage 3 Burkitt’s lymphoma in March, an unexpected speaking part after the team’s practice Friday.
Merchant made a wish.
Not the kind that landed him on a family-friendly trip to Disney World, though the brother of two younger siblings — Cody, 13, and Taylor, 7 — said that did cross his mind when he was quizzed about what he wanted by the folks at Make-A-Wish Vermont. Instead, he listened to his mother, Heather, and indulged himself.
“My mom told me: ‘This is your wish. Do exactly what you want,’” he recalled. “And the only thing I wanted was to come and watch the Giants play.”
When Merchant learned that his wish was granted, he had no idea he’d be reading his name in the New York Post or hearing it on ESPN.
“I was only expecting to watch the game,” he said sheepishly, describing attending a team practice as a bonus, access to the locker room as “incredible,” and the opportunity to say a few words to his team a complete and total surprise.
Merchant didn’t fumble. He uttered what seemed to him to be seven barely audible words in as “go get ’em” a kind of way as he could muster on the spot.
“I said: ‘Let’s go show that we’re world champs,’” he said, explaining that while the New York news media captured the essence of what he said they tweaked it a little.
Merchant is too happy to care. “It all means the same thing.”
The Giants went out and did what he told them to, and many players patted him on the back and thanked him for his words after the game.
“It made me feel good that something so small could inspire people I look up to,” he said.
There really aren’t words for that kind of feeling, and after struggling to find one on Tuesday he did something he doesn’t do often. He gave up and settled on “amazing.”
That sounds about right for a wish that, thanks to Hurricane Sandy, didn’t quite go according to script but turned out way better than Merchant could have imagined.
But for the storm, Merchant and his family would have traveled to New Jersey for the Giants’ Nov. 4 home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers — an ugly loss that started a two-game skid. That losing streak is over, and if Merchant’s words had something to do with that it’s OK with him, because he feels a kinship with the team he has fervently followed since he was 8. He has celebrated two Super Bowl victories, both over the Patriots, in his young life, and the last one couldn’t have come at a better time.
“It’s something that I could actually be happy about, when I was diagnosed, that my favorite football team had won the Super Bowl,” said Merchant, who is in remission after aggressive chemotherapy that forced him to break down the Giants’ draft from a hospital bed in Burlington this year.
Those treatments were over by mid-June, and Merchant, a sophomore at Spaulding High School, returned to school this fall and is hoping to be back on the football field next year.
The young defensive tackle got to meet his favorite player, Jason Pierre-Paul, and struck up a friendship with Justin Tuck — returning home with Tuck’s game jersey after a post-game pep talk.
Merchant said Tuck suffered a cut on his eyelid during the game.
“(Tuck) said: ‘Man, I don’t know how much more of this I can take,’” he recalled. “I said: ‘You’ve got to take more,’ and he said: ‘I will.’”
Giants coach Tom Coughlin might want to consider putting Merchant on speed dial — not just because he gives a good pre-game speech but also because he is one lucky kid. If not for an emergency appendectomy in March his cancer probably wouldn’t have been caught in time to be successfully treated.
“It was a godsend,” Heather Merchant said of the acute appendicitis that allowed doctors to detect her son’s tumor very early.
The younger Merchant said Tuck suggested he return for an upcoming home game against the Washington Redskins, and he made it clear that he’s a team player.
“I told them I’ll be available if they need me,” he said.
Merchant, whose wish included a Thanksgiving dinner of buffalo burgers that his mother prepared in their New Jersey hotel room Thursday, said he planned to be back in school today after an unusually long holiday weekend and expected he’d have to tell his story more than a few more times.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of telling it,” he said. “It was just so ... amazing.”
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