But he doesn’t need it.
“I don’t want to say I’m more comfortable, because you’re never comfortable in that situation. I think I do a better job of knowing what to say, if that makes any sense,” McCarthy says. “Let’s be honest, there’s always a couple rooms you walk in there and you … you have some tough moments.
“With Hunter, he’s a football player from this small town. He’s laying there sleeping; his head is all bandaged up. He’s a big kid; you can see he plays high-school football. His dad’s a big guy; his grandfather’s a big guy.
“I said to him, ‘Hey Hunter,’ and all of a sudden his eyes start opening. He woke up, and his mom started crying. So then, I just kept talking to him. Wow. That was powerful. He told me he played defensive end. We had a short conversation. Then you walk out of there and you go, ‘Boy …’ You’re just trying to make them smile.
“You know what the good thing about Sunday’s visit was? I think the first four or five kids I saw, they were going home. They stuck around just to say hello. You get to be part of the joy of going home. That’s a big win.”
Hunter was not one of those kids. His road to recovery will be a long one. From tiny New Rome, Wis., which is about 20 minutes south of Wisconsin Rapids, he’s still in the hospital in Madison. Once he heals from surgery, he’ll be going five days a week to Chicago for six to eight weeks of radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Even though his doctors termed his surgery a success, there were cancer cells they simply couldn’t get. After the radiation and chemo, Hunter will rest before starting 10 months of maintenance treatments. On Wednesday, his doctors told him that he won’t be playing football this fall.
“It’s going to be a long haul,” High says. “He’s 14, and he’s 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds. He’s a great big, strong kid. That’s another thing that makes this very difficult. This would be his sixth year of playing football, and they had to tell him he’s not going to be able to play – and he may never be able to play. I don’t think he quite grasps it all right now.
“We’re taking it day by day and trying to be encouraging for him. That’s why anything like that visit from Coach, we cherish.”
Jim Gilmore wants to make one thing perfectly clear: The speech was phenomenal, no matter what the guy who delivered it says.
Gilmore, the development program manager at American Family Children's Hospital, is in his car, driving north on U.S. Highway 151. He’s on his way from Madison to Green Bay, where he’ll sit down with McCarthy, Packers staffers Lisa Waeghe, Matt Klein and Cathy Dworak and others to “break down the film,” to so speak, of last weekend’s event.
Gilmore was in the audience last Sunday night for McCarthy’s speech, and he walked around the hospital with the coach earlier in the day. So he knew where McCarthy was emotionally when he took the stage.
“You know Coach. He’s the master of preparation,” Gilmore says. “As he stated that night, he put a lot of time and thought into that speech, and he felt he was prepared to deliver it. I’ve known Coach for four years, and I think one of the most difficult things to control as it relates to the hospital and his visits is the emotional impact of those visits.
“He had to compose himself a couple times coming out of those rooms. And I’m sure as he’s up there talking in front of 600 people, all these thoughts are going through his mind. But I tell ya, Coach is so genuine. He’s the gruff football coach on the sidelines but he bares his soul when he’s in that hospital.”
Gilmore’s appreciation for McCarthy’s commitment is very personal. A decade ago, Gilmore was a senior account executive at WISC-TV in Madison when his 13-month-old son, James, was diagnosed with leukemia. His wife, Kim, was pregnant at the time.
“We lived in that hospital for four months,” Gilmore says.
Later, after James recovered, Gilmore began volunteering at the hospital, then decided that wasn’t enough. He left the television business to take his current job at the hospital in 2006. James, now a seventh grader who’s “trending to be the tallest Gilmore,” according to his dad, was among the former patients who participated in Sunday night’s event, as he introduced ex-Packers center and radio/TV broadcaster Larry McCarren.
“To look at him today, you’d never know James was sick a day in his life,” Gilmore says. “I almost feel like this is a life’s calling after what we went through. We’re just so grateful for everything Coach and Jessica do for us. Four years into it, we’ve raised nearly $850.000. This year, it’s $325,000-plus, and we’re not done counting yet.”
Which is all wonderful, and McCarthy couldn’t be prouder or more excited about the future of the event. But he’s still ticked about losing it during his speech. He should be better than that, he says.
“You know, it’s not comfortable talking publicly for me. And then, to get emotional, it’s hard to put yourself out there,” McCarthy says, shaking his head. “Everybody’s like, ‘Oh, that’s great.’ But it doesn’t feel right to me. You’ve got 600 some people there, and you put so much time into it. I mean, I typed it up, I had it in a book – I never do that. I wanted to really do a good job. And then I get up there, and hell, I was on the second line … and I was off the reservation. I lost my spot; I didn’t know where I was. The emotion takes you over.”
McCarthy stops and takes a deep breath, to make sure the emotion doesn’t take him over again. He recalls hearing the Gilmore family’s story for the first time, shakes his head again and summons one of the signature phrases of his coaching philosophy.
“You talk about ‘stacking successes,’” McCarthy says. “You’re trying to make sure your child gets through one day to have another day. You can’t really get into their world, you can only support it. After hearing James’ story, that’s how I look at it. I’m just there to show support. I’m just trying to help.
“Jessica and I, we’re kind of learning on the run here. This thing is only going to get better.”
Unlike his golf game. And that’s perfectly fine.
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.