The past year had been hard for Andrew Wischer.
In the summer of 2015, his father, Jim Wischer, a sergeant in the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office’s special investigations unit, was diagnosed with glioblastoma. For about a year, the elder Wischer underwent treatment and fared relatively well against the typically aggressive form of brain cancer.
Recently, however, Wischer’s condition turned for the worse. He stopped treatment, and the family wasn’t certain Andrew’s father would see 2017. But in an otherwise depressing holiday season, a special gift from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made the end of the year just a little bit more bearable for Andrew.
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Shortly after Jim was released from the hospital earlier this month, Chris Gillum, a co-worker of Jim’s, visited the family’s home. Andrew came down the stairs decked out in Buccaneers apparel from head to toe. Gillum, an Oakland Raiders fan, started talking football with the 14-year-old.
“What’d you think about Super Bowl XXXVII,” Gillum remembers him asking, “when Derrick Brooks intercepted Rich Gannon’s pass and took it back for a touchdown?”
He did some quick math in his head. Wischer would’ve been 1 at the time of Tampa Bay’s last Super Bowl victory.
“How did you know that?” he asked.
“I’m a huge Bucs fan,” Wischer replied.
“Yes, you are,” Gillum thought. He was a fanatic: the sort of kid who runs up and down his street with a Tampa Bay flag as part of his game day ritual.
He asked who Wischer’s favorite players are, and he responded running back Doug Martin, quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver Mike Evans. The answer gave Gillum an idea.
Gillum’s son, Jett Gillum, is a linebacker and safety for the Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School football team. Gillum knew head coach Tod Creneti is pretty well connected in the football community, so he asked if the head coach might know anyone with the Bucs.
“I know that he probably knows some people in his time as head coach, but coach Creneti’s thing has always been that your kids’ development, well-being and success in life is what he’s most concerned with,” Gillum said.
Creneti had one strong connection. Mark Duffner, Tampa Bay’s linebackers coach, attended the same high school as Creneti in Alexandria, Va., about 10 years apart and later recruited Creneti while he was the head coach at Holy Cross, in what was then Division I-AA. When Duffner left to take the head job at the University of Maryland, Creneti worked at a handful of camps during the summer.
Creneti asked Duffner if the Bucs might be able to do anything for Andrew, and Duffner put him in touch with Tampa Bay’s media relations department, who then told Andrew’s story to Evans. The day after the Bucs’ loss to the Cowboys on Dec. 18, the wide receiver left a signed and personalized jersey at the team offices in Tampa. A few days later, Creneti picked up the gift and delivered the jersey to Wischer.
“He was blown away — completely blown away. Speechless,” Creneti said. “And they said after I left he was even more emotional, in tears about it.”
“To: Andrew,” Evans had written. “Prayers to you and your family! Thanks for the Support! Mike Evans 13. Go Bucs!”
Jim can barely speak because of the cancer, but Creneti could tell he was blown away by the gesture, too.
“You could see the look in his face and the way he engaged,” Creneti said. “It was pretty powerful.”
The gift pales in comparison to the Wischers’ larger circumstances, but for Andrew, it provided a positive memory amid the difficulties.
“You could just see that there was no pain on his face,” Gillum said, “and that was really good for us as a group of detectives to see that, and I think Jim as well. I think Jim knew at that point that he was well taken care of, not only by his mother, but he’ll have plenty of support.”