A GIANT STORY OF LOVE, LOSS IS EMOTIONAL, INSPIRATIONAL
Record - 5/13/2017
EAST RUTHERFORD -- Leah Paske was not about to refuse the invitation.
She was undaunted by the 6-hour drive that loomed to the home of newest Giants wide receiver Travis Rudolph two weeks ago. Any parent knows how challenging such a trip with a middle school child can be.
But ever since Rudolph gained worldwide praise last fall for his kindness toward her son Bo, who has autism, the Rudolph and Paske families consider themselves -- well -- one.
"We weren't going to miss it," Leah recalled in a recent phone conversation with The Record and NorthJersey.com. "When Bo first met Travis, he thought he was an NFL player, and Travis told him, 'Not yet.' So the fact that we could be there with him and his family when he did become an NFL player, it was a special weekend for all of us.
"And Bo just kept asking, 'Which team is he going to play for?' So when we were able to tell him he was going to the Giants, he was completely excited. The Giants got themselves a great one."
This has been an incredibly emotional time for Rudolph, whose father, Darryl, was killed in an accidental shooting the week before the draft. A projected mid-round draft pick, Travis watched the event from his West Palm Beach, Fla. home with family and friends -- the Paskes included -- but did not hear his name called.
Undeterred, Rudolph wound up signing a free agent contract with the Giants and said Friday afternoon he is confident in his chances to make the team at a competitive position.
"He was the reason why I started playing football," Rudolph said of his late father. "As a young boy, probably starting from age 4, he was going outside, throwing the football with me and everything. ... He was just there for every game that I ever played. Rest in peace, Dad."
The NFL wants to see how young players handle unforeseen adversity. If Friday's first impression is any indication, Rudolph continues set the bar high. He handled himself well when a crowd of reporters approached him before practice to talk about -- among other things -- his father and his friendship with Bo, who turned 12 back in February.
Asked to recall what turned out to be his last conversation about football with his dad, Rudolph said: "He was telling me to stay confident in myself because I know what I can do. He just said that he was very proud of me for everything that I had achieved so far and continued to achieve."
Bo Paske was sitting at a table alone inside his school's cafeteria when Rudolph approached and sat down, unaware that the former was a child with special needs.
Of his relationship with Bo, which has grown in the months since, Rudolph said Friday: "Him just telling me that he loves me and just saying that I am his friend forever just put a smile on my face."
In her Facebook post last fall that ultimately went viral, Leah Paske wrote: "I'm not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I'm happy to say that it will not soon be forgotten. This is one day I didn't have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes. Travis Rudolph thank you so much, you made this momma exceedingly happy, and have made us fans for life!"
Rudolph had a strong first day on the field, catching several passes from third-round quarterback Davis Webb. He worked primarily with the first group that included Webb, first-round tight end Evan Engram, fourth-round running back Wayne Gallman and sixth-round right tackle Adam Bisnowaty.
Wearing No. 19, Rudolph made one of the practice's highlights with a sliding catch on a Webb pass over the middle in team drills.
"I definitely have a chance and like I said, I have confidence in myself and that is why I chose to come here," Rudolph said. "I know that they have great receivers, but I feel like I am a great receiver as well, so I have confidence in myself to make this team."
Added Leah Paske: "Can't say enough about Travis. Most humble person you'll ever meet. His family made us family. The Giants are getting a great one."
Video on NorthJersey.com
Watch Giants rookie Travis Rudolph discuss his emotional ride.