NEW YORK – When the name of Patricia Dianne McCoy's baby came off the lips of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Gerald McCoy just bowed his head and let the tears flow. All at once, the 6-foot-4, 295-pound self-described "animal on the field" was a bawling mountain of emotion.
The celebration for being selected third overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL draft Thursday night would wait. For a few moments, McCoy just wanted to think of his mom, whom he lost to a brain aneurysm nearly three years ago.
"She was my heart," the former Oklahoma Sooner said later. "She was my best friend, the person I was closest to. I'm her baby, so it would have been like her baby made it.
"I dedicate the day to her," he said before looking to the heavens. "I made it, Mom. I made it."
McCoy had his mother's initials stitched in red on the left cuff of his dress shirt. As he continued crying he shared a moment and some emotion with his father, young daughter and other family members.
Soon enough there would be joy; he wrapped Goodell in a huge bearhug, nearly lifting the commish clear off the ground. The two wound up laughing for the cameras. Not for a second though did McCoy forget about what drove him here.
"I told myself, 'Yeah, I won't cry,' " he said. "Yeah, right. [My dad and I] were kind of thinking the same thing, both missing my mother and knowing there should have been an extra chair there [in the green room].
"I just felt I made her proud once that phone call came through and I finally made it. Still have a lot to prove, a lot to do. … But we made it."
McCoy is the first to admit that it wasn't the easiest journey.
He was a dominant player as a freshman at Southeast High in Oklahoma City and began hanging out, and partying, with the older players. His priorities, he said, were all wrong and he became a father as a senior. It was his parents who sat him down and demanded he start acting like a man.
"I didn't know what it meant to be a father. I was 17," McCoy told 'The 700 Club.' "I was still worried about high school and playing video games. I was in the middle of being recruited by colleges, and my parents told me, " 'G,' you've got to grow up now. We'll help you, but you've got to gradually start learning this.
"[My mother] was the one that taught me to be a leader, not a follower. Be the head, not the tail."
When he never got on the field as a freshman at Oklahoma and wound up redshirting he was so frustrated he called his mom and told her he was going to quit football and drop out of OU.
"She told me, 'We don't quit in this family. If you quit, I'll kill you.' "
It was his mother who helped reintroduce him to his Christian faith, which he credits with making him a good father to 4-year-old Navaeh, whose bubbling smile has charmed everyone at NFL draft functions this week.
"This one is mine," he said Wednesday as he held Navaeh. "Isn't she beautiful?"
It was also his faith that got him through his mother's death. Angry and depressed for a week, he finally had a conversation – or one-sided screaming match – with his God.
"I let the anger out," he told "The 700 Club."
"We had already had the funeral and I came home and told my dad, I said, 'Daddy, I can't take this anymore. I've just got to say what I've got to say. God knows how I feel, but I've just got to say it.'
"I was yelling. I was angry. I was hitting on walls. I could not understand why my mother had to be taken away. 'Anything else could have happened, but why would you take my mother away?' I said, 'God, look. I don't like it. I never will like it, never will understand it, but you are still ruler. You are still king, and I give you all the praise for everything that happens. I don't know why you did it, but you have a plan for my life and for some reason you allowed this to happen. So, if you allowed it to happen, apparently I can make it through it. And you're going to help me through it. So I leave it in your hands.'"
From that moment on it was a different Gerald McCoy, he said. He immediately went from bench warmer to star defensive tackle, starting all 40 games in his Sooner career. His personality and positive outlook was infectious.
Neither the crying nor the squeeze of Goodell surprised anyone who knows him.
"We knew [the tears were] coming," said Sam Bradford, McCoy's teammate at OU and the No. 1 pick overall to the St. Louis Rams. "That's just who he is. He's one of the best personalities I've ever come across. He's one of my favorite guys."
Wednesday morning, when the top prospects met with Goodell in his intimidating, Manhattan high-rise, the other players said the nerves were palpable. No one knew what to say. So McCoy cut the tension by cracking jokes.
One day later he was hugging the commish, the tears drying from his eyes but the memory of Patricia McCoy honored in full.
"She's smiling today because I'm living my dream," McCoy said. "She wanted her baby to live his dream. It's a good day."