Tom Coughlin, center, at his Jay Fund charity event at...

Tom Coughlin, center, at his Jay Fund charity event at MetLife Stadium on Friday, June 2. The former Giants head coach founded the charity in 1996 to help families deal with the challenges associated with children suffering from cancer. Credit: Bob Glauber

Tom Coughlin is standing on the field at MetLife Stadium where he presided over one of the most remarkable seasons in nearly a century of Giants football -- the 2011 season, which began with few expectations but ended with his second unlikely Super Bowl win over the Patriots. It captured the imagination of fans four years after an even more impossible dream march to secure the Vince Lombardi Trophy. 

For just a moment on Friday afternoon, the former Giants coach is transported back to those two unforgettable runs. 

“If you just look back at the 2007 season, you’re talking about the All-American story,” Coughlin said.

The memories come pouring out. 

“It’s hiring Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator and giving up 80 points the first two games and going 0-2,” he said of the nightmarish start to that season, which ended with Spagnuolo’s defense conquering Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLII. “Then going to Washington, being down at halftime, taking the lead, they drive it the length of the field, third-and-13, they get to the 1-yard line, they get up there and clock it and they throw a play-action pass and don’t huddle. They run two running plays to the left side, Aaron Ross and Kawika Mitchell make the tackles, and we win the game and win six in a row.”

The Giants ended the regular season with a thrilling 38-35 loss to the Patriots but won three road playoff games to earn a rematch against Brady and Bill Belichick. This time it was Coughlin’s team that prevailed, 17-14, over the previously undefeated Patriots.

“In ’11, we lost four [straight] games [during the regular season] and won the Super Bowl,” he said. “You can’t make this stuff up. Against a great team and the quarterback who’s the greatest of all time, and we did it the same way.”

Tom Coughlin at his Jay Fund charity event at MetLife...

Tom Coughlin at his Jay Fund charity event at MetLife Stadium on Friday, June 2. The former Giants head coach founded the charity in 1996 to help families deal with the challenges associated with children suffering from cancer. Credit: Bob Glauber

Back to present time. 

Coughlin quickly scans the field and looks out at dozens of kids running drills as part of his Jay Fund charity, an organization Coughlin founded in 1996 to help families deal with the challenges associated with children suffering from cancer. Named after former Boston College player Jay McGillis, one of Coughlin’s players who died of leukemia in 1992 at age 21, the organization has distributed more than $20 million to nearly 6,000 families. 

“I’m focused on these kids in blue today,” Coughlin said as he looks at the children wearing blue “Jay Fund” T-shirts and running around on the same field where Coughlin's players responded  so remarkably well during his Hall of Fame-caliber career with the Giants. 

“This is what puts life in perspective,” said Coughlin, 76. “You win a Super Bowl, then you visit a hospital, you see the parents who stay there overnight, you see the sick child, you know what they’re going through, you know their lives are completely disrupted and nothing is normal anymore. You realize these are people that need help, and in many cases they have no place to turn. We’ll put a roof over their heads, food on their table, pay their electric bill, transport them back and forth to the hospital. We’re going to be there when nobody else is there.”

Yet it is a bittersweet moment for the legendary coach, who made his first appearance at Friday’s event since his wife died last Nov. 2. Judy Coughlin was diagnosed in 2020 with progressive supranuclear palsy, an incurable brain disorder that eventually robbed her of the ability to speak and move. Tom became her full-time caregiver. 

“I've spent my entire life preparing for some of the biggest games a person could play, but nothing can prepare you to be a caregiver who has to watch a loved one slip away," Coughlin wrote last year in a New York Times op-ed. “I am not seeking sympathy. It's the last thing I want. It's the last thing that most caregivers want. Taking care of Judy is a promise I made 54 years ago when she was crazy enough to say 'I do.' "

He misses her terribly, especially at an event like this, where Judy loved to shower attention on the families afflicted by their loved one’s cancer diagnosis. 

“When you spend four or five years and your routine is all around your better half and all of a sudden that stops, it’s tough,” he said. “I used to be very busy between 6 and 8 p.m., because we would get the meal ready, we would clean up and put her to bed. I’m sitting there now and saying, 'What do I do?’ But I want to be busy. I want to be active. If I can be involved in this and I can see the benefits of helping the families, certainly that helps.”

Coughlin’s football family has responded, and not just the players he coached. Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson, who was honored last October at the Jay Fund’s annual Champions for Children Gala in New York, gathered the dozens of players attending the dinner on stage to pay tribute to Coughlin. 

“I wanted the players to surround him and just show our love and appreciation, to show Tom that he was not alone,” said Carson, who attended Friday’s event. “You could see in his eyes that he appreciated it.”

He did. 

“It was nice that people would pause and think about her and speak about her, because she was always there,” Coughlin said. 

Thirteen days after Carson and the players embraced Coughlin on the stage, Judy was gone. She was 77.

“Helping people was what she loved,” Coughlin said. “She never wanted attention, but she wanted to be there. She was a hugger and a kisser and she loved everybody.”

Coughlin will carry on the mission, embracing his wife’s memory while helping others. 

“Everything is about the kids,” he said. “That’s what makes life worthwhile, and when a parent comes up to you, takes you aside and tells you what you’ve meant to them and their child is standing right next to them and still fighting . . . It’s not about me, but I’ll tell you what it’s about. It’s about compassion and helping others when they need it.”

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