It is a charity born of the heart. The final year of Jay McGillis' life touched Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin in such a way that hundreds of pediatric leukemia patients in Jacksonville are now benefiting.
"My whole thing was my closeness to the McGillis family and that I shared in their suffering as they watched their son die," Coughlin said of his former player at Boston College.
That was in the winter and spring of 1992. Two years later, Coughlin began laying the groundwork to his Jay Fund Foundation, which has since netted over $600,000 for Jacksonville area kids stricken with the deadly disease. This May 6-7, Coughlin will host his annual Jay Fund golf tournament, dinner and silent auction at Marsh Landing Country Club and the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club. It is an event that has grown from a net of $34,000 in 1996, to a whopping $185,000 last year.
"I knew I wanted to do something. The most significant thought I had was to do something for families with children with leukemia, because I had been so close to a family that lost a child to that dreaded disease," Coughlin said.
Coughlin is currently offering his Jay Fund auction items on-line at eBay. Auction items include authentic game jerseys autographed by the Jaguars' Mark Brunell and Fred Taylor, the Browns' Tim Couch, the Colts' Peyton Manning, Denver's Brian Griese, the Rams' Marshall Faulk and the Vikings' Daunte Culpepper. Also on auction will be a Jaguars inaugural-season sideline jacket Coughlin wore in 1995, and a 1999 U.S. Women's World Cup game-worn soccer jersey that is signed by the entire team.
Coughlin's Jay Fund begins and ends every year with a zero balance; all of the money it raises is donated to the Jacksonville pediatric leukemia community. Along the way, Coughlin also hosts Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day and ice cream parties for local leukemia victims. He is assisted by his daughter, Keli, Jay Fund's executive director; his wife, Judy; and Jaguars Director of Pro Personnel and Jay Fund Treasurer Fran Foley.
"What I would like to have happen is the money go to all pediatric cancers. I'd like to just grow and embrace this pediatric oncology community," Coughlin said.
The impetus behind the effort remains a story of college football lore. It is about everything that is good about the relationship between a player and his coach.
"He started 10 games for us in 1991. Prior to the last game of the year, against Miami, it started out like a sore throat, then it (was thought to be) mononucleosis, and then it was leukemia; all in one week. I had to tell the team on Thursday that Jay had leukemia," Coughlin said.
"His dignity, his integrity, his attitude of putting himself after everyone else, continued. He called me the day (the bone marrow transplant) didn't work. I said, 'Don't give up.' " Coughlin added.
McGillis died on July 3, 1992. In a little more than seven months, he deteriorated from a powerful young man who was a starting safety on a nationally-ranked major college football team, to an 80-pound shadow of what the first 21 years of his life had been.
Coughlin's attachment to McGillis was natural. He was the kind of player Coughlin loves.
"He was a classic over-achiever. I have a deep appreciation for those people," Coughlin said.
Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.