On the eve of the team’s third game during his rookie season with the New York Giants in 2007, tight end Kevin Boss said you could’ve heard a pin drop when Col. Greg Gadson entered the room during a team meeting.
The Giants needed some sort of lift after opening the season at 0-2. The team was set to play Washington the next day in what could almost be characterized as a must-win situation.
“I don’t necessarily remember all of the words that he spoke but I’ll never forget the impact that he made on all of us and left on all of us,” Boss said. “I think I remember all of us just being in awe, in shock.
“I remember him kind of finishing up his speech and his talk to us and us looking around at each other with our jaws dropped and just like, wow, that’s something that we’ll never experience and never understand,” he continued. “Here we are about to go play a game and Col. Gadson just got done battling for his life.”
Boss made those comments during a Veterans Day program arranged by Eric Niemann through support from various entities and individuals in the community. Gadson was the featured speaker along with Boss, former Giants coach Tom Coughlin and then-wide receivers coach Mike Sullivan.
Gadson’s words no doubt remained in the minds of players when they went to bed that September night in 2007 at the team hotel. And they likely carried over into the game against Washington, which ended up as a 24-17 victory with a dramatic defensive stand in the final seconds.
“We got back in the locker room and the players were all over Greg Gadson,” Coughlin said. “They were hugging him and I had him right in the middle of our (postgame) meeting. That was our introduction to Col. Gadson.”
The Giants went on to win the next six games and ultimately took the Super Bowl title with a 17-14 victory over the Patriots. Gadson was right there with the team on the sidelines and the team’s owners even presented him with a special Super Bowl ring.
So what was so special about Gadson’s words that impacted the Giants in such a pivotal way? Why did a room full of NFL players and coaches fall silent upon their first glance of the man? Who is Col. Greg Gadson?
Gadson played linebacker at Army in the 1980s and attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1989. Among his classmates were Sullivan, the Giants assistant who today is director of football recruiting at Army, and Niemann, Philomath’s mayor, who called Gadson “my hero, my friend and my classmate.”
Gadson served in the U.S. Army for more than 26 years. Earlier in the year months before he visited the Giants, Gadson was in command of the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery, during Operation Iraqi Freedom in Baghdad.
Returning on May 7, 2007, from a memorial service for two soldiers from his brigade who had been killed four days earlier by an improvised explosive device, Gadson tried to sort through the sacrifice that the young men and their families had made while fighting for the freedom of the Iraqi people halfway around the world.
Traveling toward headquarters as part of a four-vehicle patrol, Gadson’s own life was threatened by another roadside bomb.
“The blast lifted my vehicle off the road and ejected me out of the vehicle where I can remember flying through the air and hitting the ground, coming to a rolling stop on my back,” he said.
Gadson had on a previous occasion been in a vehicle hit by an IED in Iraq, but he knew this was different.
“I knew I was wounded seriously because I couldn’t move,” he said. “The last thing I said before I lost consciousness was ‘God, I don’t want to die here’ and I was out.”
Gadson’s story includes details of his team’s response, including that of a 19-year-old private with little medical knowledge who put tourniquets on his legs, a move that he was later told by doctors had saved his life.
In the first four to six hours after the blast, Gadson went through 129 units of blood — for reference, the average human body holds six to eight units.
Four days after the incident, Gadson was fighting for his life at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In the end, he lost both legs above the knees and normal use of his right arm and hand.
“I can tell you quite honestly, I didn’t have much of an outlook on life,” he said. “There’s not anything that I could imagine that I could expect out of life and I would tell you that’s when I felt like I wanted to quit, I wanted to give up.”
But giving up proved to not be an option. Gadson knew that he was still accountable as a parent, husband and soldier. The responsibilities he had before being wounded remained.
“I think more significant for me was perhaps my moment of poise,” he said. “It was my character that wouldn’t allow me to quit. It was my character of never quitting, never giving up, staying optimistic and keeping my faith even when I didn’t have anything to look forward to carry me through these tough times.”
Gadson credits his teammates for seeing something in him that he didn’t see in himself.
“In spite of what happened to me, it was my Army teammates, my family, my friends, that picked me up and saw something in me that gave me an opportunity to get back on my feet,” Gadson said. “These men, these patriots, stood behind me, believed in me and never let me quit.”
Boss, a Philomath High graduate and fifth-round draft choice of the Giants out of Western Oregon in 2007, said he was happy to interact with Gadson, Coughlin, Sullivan and others during Tuesday’s program.
“Just hearing Greg talking again, I’ve got goosebumps on top of goosebumps because it just really brought me right back to 2007 when we initially heard him talk,” Boss said. “… To see somebody like Col. Gadson and what he had gone through and to hear him speak to us as a team, it gave us a lot of perspective to truly take a step back and understand there’s much more than this game and there’s much more at stake in life.”
Coughlin, who coached the Giants for 12 years, remembers the situation that led up to Gadson’s talk before the Washington game. New York had lost in Week 1 on the road to the Cowboys, 45-35, and then at home against Green Bay, 35-13.
“We were 0-2 and if we had lost the third game they would’ve fired me,” Coughlin said. “Earlier in the week, Mike comes to me and says, ‘Coach, when we go to Washington this weekend, I have a classmate, a former teammate of mine from West Point, who I would like to invite over to the hotel to say hello.’”
Coughlin just doesn’t let anyone talk to his football team but after chatting with Gadson on the phone, he had no qualms about it.
“What he stands for is exactly what you want out of life,” Coughlin said. “He’s mentioned accountability, he’s mentioned pride, he’s mentioned poise, he’s got all those. But I tell you what he has — he has a will to win, a will to survive and a will that states regardless of the circumstances, nobody’s going to tell him how he’s going to live his life, what he can and cannot do.”
Sullivan, who was an airborne ranger in the U.S. Army, eventually worked his way up to offensive coordinator with the Giants.
“Nothing compares to being married or seeing your children being born, but from a professional standpoint, there’s nothing that compares to the Super Bowl,” Sullivan said. “To me, being able to share that with my brother, with Greg Gadson, and knowing and seeing the impact he had on all of those players and the example he set with his resilience, his perseverance and what he meant to the players and coaches, it’s the greatest memory of my professional career, bar none.”