Inspiration comes in many forms, and sometimes when you least expect it. For the Giants, it came to them in their post-practice huddle when a 15-year-old boy from Vermont, still recovering from a long battle with non-Hodgkin's Burkitt's lymphoma, delivered a simple message to his favorite team.
The message hit home for the players, who erupted into applause after his brief speech.
"It's tough not to be inspired by something like that," defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said. "He's a kid dealing with something we have no idea about. We can't put ourselves into his shoes. For him to want to spend his time with us and for him to give that fiery speech was heartfelt. Everybody wanted to match the intensity of it."
The Giants responded to their young fan's entreaty, putting together one of their most dominating performances of the season in routing the Packers, 38-10, at MetLife Stadium. The win improved the Giants' record to 7-4, gave them a two-game lead over the Redskins and Cowboys, and delivered a major jolt of confidence for a team that had started to let some doubt creep in after back-to-back losses following a 6-2 start.
They were quick to praise Merchant, who had connected with the Giants through the Make-A-Wish Foundation but had no idea he'd be able to help his favorite team on such a personal level.
Merchant, a sophomore at Spaulding High School in Barre, Vt., had simply wanted to attend a Giants game as a way to take his mind off his illness. But his story resonated with coach Tom Coughlin, and he gave Merchant a chance to share his message with the team.
Merchant showed up at practice thinking he'd merely get to watch the players, but he found himself in the middle of the team and was asked by the coach to say a few words.
"It was emotional, thrilling," Merchant said in the Giants' locker room, where he was cheered once more by players and coaches who fed off his energy. "It was awesome. I never realized they were so big."
The players couldn't have asked for a more moving example of a person who had been through so much at such a young age. Merchant's cancer is in remission, but not before he went through several rounds of chemotherapy.
"There was a lot of inspiration there," running back Ahmad Bradshaw said. "It gave us something to play for. It's just bad what he's going through. We wanted to come out strong and play like we know how to play football."
They did just that. The Giants streaked to a 24-7 lead in the second quarter, thanks to Eli Manning's passing, Bradshaw's running and receiving, and a relentless performance from a defense that sacked reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers five times and limited him to 219 yards, one touchdown, an interception and a lost fumble.
It was as dominating an effort as we've seen from a team that played every bit like champions and did their young fan proud.
"[Merchant] did a great job and he said to go show everybody you're the world champions, and why you're the world champions and play that way," Manning said. "I think it got everybody fired up and obviously, we came out and played the way we know we can."
The Giants now are in excellent position to win the NFC East title, and they can take another step forward by beating the Redskins in Washington next Monday night. But the remaining five games could be treacherous, especially if the Giants lose to the Redskins. They have games against the Saints, Falcons and Ravens before finishing off the season at home against the Eagles.
Still, Sunday night's win offered a major confidence boost.
"It was a huge win coming off the bye," said Victor Cruz, who had a touchdown catch. "You could easily come in and falter and be lackadaisical, but we came out firing. We understood this was a game we needed to win, and you could see it in the way we played. We played with passion and integrity, and it really came out tonight."
And just in case they need some more motivation moving forward, Adam Merchant is available.
"Any time," he said. "I'll go to the Super Bowl if they need me."