Bucs select Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy with the No. 3 overall pick
The Oklahoma defensive tackle, whose mother, Patricia, died in 2007, said his thoughts turned to her when his name was called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as the No. 3 overall pick by the Bucs in the 75th annual NFL draft.
"She was my heart. My mother was my best friend,'' McCoy said. "The person I was closest to. She was my heart and I put her initials on my sleeve to honor her. I made it.''
Tears flowed freely down the face of McCoy, who hugged his father, Gerald, Sr., and lifted his 4-year-old daughter, Nevaeh, kissing her on the lips.
McCoy gave a bear hug to Goodell, pointed a finger toward the heavens, posed for pictures and then pumped his arm with the draft card in his hand.
Of course, McCoy predicted that ponchos might be needed for him and his family prior to Thursday. He was not only thrilled to be headed to Tampa Bay and try to rebuild the Bucs once-proud defense, but had spent the week watching Youtube video of players' reactions upon being selected in the 2009 NFL draft.
On Wednesday, McCoy asked Goodell, ""Is it okay to cry?''
According to McCoy's oldest sister, Nicki, his personality is a gift from his mother.
"Mom was always very encouraging, always laughing,'' Nicki said.
In fact, it was Patricia who talked Gerald from quitting football and leaving Oklahoma as a homesick freshman.
"My mother was a people person,'' McCoy said. "She loved people and the fire and drive that I have came from my mother,'' McCoy said. "She's the one who taught me to be a leader not a follower and be the head, not the tail. That's what I tried to be. When I tried to quit my freshman year at Oklahoma, she's the one I talked to and she told me, "We don't quit in this family. If you quit, I'll kill you.''
Nicki says, "She sure gave him a real talking to.''
So McCoy stuck it out. Patricia had been working as a human resource specialist at an Air Force base and returned from a business trip in San Antonio to surprise her family on Father's Day.
"She had headaches all day, but she wasn't going let it spoil her time with her family,'' Nicki said.
Patricia finally had to go to the hospital and doctors discovered she had a brain aneurysm. She died 17 days later when her heart stopped.
McCoy knew what he had to do. He returned to the Sooners program a week later and was eventually named the Big 12's defensive freshman of the year. McCoy followed that up by being named an All America player two years in a row.
The Bucs figured they would have a shot at one of the draft's elite defensive tackles Thursday, either Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh or McCoy. They actually believed McCoy was a better fit for their one-gap, penetrating defensive scheme that coach Raheem Morris re-installed the final six weeks of the 2009 season. The Bucs were last in rushing defense last year.
Suh is keenly aware what playing the three-technique in Tampa Bay means: inevitable comparisons to Warren Sapp, a future Hall of Fame player.
"Well, I mean if there's a great player who played there before and people feel you're worthy to be compared to him, of course you're going to be a little nervous about that,'' McCoy said. "But I don't think I can compare to Warren Sapp by any means. He's a great player, a Hall of Fame guy and I wouldn't take anything from him
"No comparisons to Warren Sapp by any means. I don't like them at all, the guy is too great. I haven't proved anything at all.''
Even so, McCoy had more than a feeling he would be headed to Tampa Bay after Suh was selected second overall by the Detroit Lions.
"Raheem told me I was his guy all along,'' McCoy said. "I love it. I love it. I'm a defensive minded person. I'm real, real nice off the field so a lot of people think I'm kind of soft. But I'm a killer on the field. Once I step across those white lines, I turn into an animal. I plan to bring that to Tampa.''
But when the moment arrived, the hulking McCoy with the Dolce&Gabbana eyewear sobbed and embraced his father, who simply told him, "I love you.'
"I told myself, ah, I won't cry,'' McCoy said. "Yeah, right. I really tried to hold it in, but I was overwhelmed with emotions. We probably were thinking the same thing, both missing my mother. Knowing there should've been an extra chair there.
What would his mother have said of this extraordinary night?
"You did it. You did it. You went through a whole lot but you made it,'' he said.
McCoy said Nevaeh is too young to understand what happened Thursday night, but one day she will grasp how prayers can be answered. After all, her named is 'Heaven' spelled backward.