Eight-year-old Matthew McGowan had been admitted to Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence last year with an inoperable brain tumor. Because Matthew was a big sports fan, his parents, Richard and Linda, and uncle, John Rijo, contacted Brown through a mutual friend to see if Brown could autograph a jersey.
The response stunned them.
"The next day, we got the word that it was no problem, but that Troy didn't want to send it, he wanted to deliver it in person," said Rijo.
The visit was arranged, and while young Matthew was unconscious and unresponsive, the family knew he was aware of Brown's presence when his heart rate increased as Brown held his hand. Brown told the family he hoped to score a touchdown for Matthew in the team's next game, Oct. 8 against the Dolphins.
As the family watched that Sunday from the hospital, Brown hauled in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady. They could hardly believe it. Then Brown sent the ball, with an autograph, as a surprise to the McGowans. Later, the family had Brown autograph a framed photo that ran in the Globe the day after the victory over the Dolphins.
Unfortunately, young Matthew lost the fight for his life yesterday, but his family didn't want Brown's generosity to go unrecognized, despite his wishes to keep the visit quiet. At a most difficult time in their lives, Brown's gesture meant more than they could express.
"The fact he doesn't want any recognition is more reason why we wanted to tell people about this," Rijo said.
Rijo said the autographed picture included the words, "To Matthew, a true champion, your friend forever, Troy Brown."
Said Matthew's father, Richard: "Troy is right, Matthew is and always will be a true champion. And to us, Troy will always be more than just a sports champion, but our friend forever."