Take a walk through the hallways of the hematology/oncology floor at Oishei Children’s Hospital. Step inside rooms in which patients are being treated for serious illnesses -- a little girl in bed with both arms wrapped around a doll and a stuffed bear by her side; a little boy getting a blood transfusion; an infant whose head is bandaged with a tube connected to the top as mom and dad take turns holding her.
That was how LeSean McCoy spent part of his day off Tuesday.
“I think as people, especially as athletes, we get so wrapped up in our day-to-day lives as far as, ‘I fumbled the ball ... I could have caught a pass ... I lost the game,’ ” the Buffalo Bills’ running back said. “But this is real life. The battles that we fight on the field -- don’t get me wrong, they’re very important -- but I think the real battles are some of these kids right here fighting for their lives.”
All of a sudden, being on a team with playoff hopes that have all but evaporated with a 4-8 record doesn’t seem so discouraging. All of a sudden, being on pace for his second-lowest total rushing yards for the season (652) in a 10-year career doesn’t seem so depressing.
Wearing his blue Bills jersey, a blue Bills cap and a smile, McCoy went from room to room, causing a stir with a visit that was mainly kept under wraps. When one hospital employee nearly bumped into him in the hallway, he exclaimed, “Holy (bleep)!”
McCoy spent several minutes chatting with patients and family members, posing for photos and signing autographs before leaving them with gifts from the Bills Foundation “Bandwagon.” McCoy made a point of asking children their color preference (red or blue) before picking out hats, pennants, water bottles, towels and other items bearing the team logo.
The visit provided a temporary break from thinking about the disappointment of the season, but the 11 games in which he played and the four left on the schedule are never far from his mind.
“I just want to go out here and play hard as possible, finish with a bang,” McCoy said. “It’s the NFL. It’s, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ That’s what everybody remembers, the last couple of games. Everybody just has to dial in and get some wins, put some good (performances) on film and try to build on that to the next season.
“I think we have a pretty good team coming back, but every game is important so I look at it as a one-game year, each game at a time. That’s the only thing that matters right now.”
Tuesday, though, was all about those heart-tugging moments at Oishei. It was about the boy who, having spent the majority of his day just lying in bed, nearly yanking an IV out of his arm to embrace McCoy as the running back entered his room. As McCoy left, the boy yelled, “You guys better win on Sunday!”
It was about McCoy leading the Bills and hospital staffers accompanying him in a chorus of “Happy Birthday” for a little girl, who turns five at the end of the month.
“Some of these parents in here, man, are extremely tough -- mentally, physically -- and that means a lot,” McCoy said. “You see some of these infants that haven’t left the hospital, and their parents are here every day. And there are some kids that are perfectly fine and their parents are not in their lives, so it puts in perspective the type of people that’s here.
“Some kids may be getting some type of treatment today that may be painful. You don’t know what they’re going through, so when you see them and kind of see the excitement, it puts it in perspective. If you can give them, I don't know, 10 minutes of some fun or something that can get their mind off of anything going on, something positive, you make some kids’ days. And that’s what it’s about.”
McCoy knows how easy it is for the Bills to be apathetic about the final four games, the first of which is Sunday against the 3-9 New York Jets, who the Bills pummeled on Nov. 11 at MetLife Stadium.
But he doesn’t think anyone has mentally checked out, even with the pronounced emphasis on getting younger players into the lineup providing more of a preseason feel to the stretch that includes three AFC East opponents and three contests at New Era Field. McCoy credits coach Sean McDermott for keeping the locker room focused.
“I know the season hasn’t gone how we wanted or what everybody expected, but the good thing is the type of coach, our head coach, that leads us,” McCoy said. “He’s one of those guys where players will play hard for him. And even though we’re not, technically, in the playoff hunt, his presence and the way he addresses us is like we’re playing for something.
“There’s some coaches that you’ll play hard for and there’s some coaches that maybe just, ‘OK, well, the year’s over and it feels like it.’ With Sean, you don't really feel it. Andy Reid also had that type of effect on us (when McCoy was with the Philadelphia Eagles) -- guys would go through a brick wall for him. He has that same approach, I think.”
McCoy sounds as if he fully expects to be with the Bills next season, when he will be 31. General Manager Brandon Beane is on record as saying that will be the case.
The running back believes there’s plenty of reason to be excited about what’s ahead, beginning with the play of rookie quarterback Josh Allen.
“I think with his talent level, man, and what we’re seeing with him, you can build around that,” McCoy said. “I’ve been around an offense where there’s so many dynamic players around, including the quarterback, that it’s hard to really just key on a guy. When you have a lot of talent around that quarterback position, and the way Josh is playing, it makes the offense easier (to execute) and it's a lot to defend.
“So we’ve just got to build on him and I think things will turn around.”