Fionn Crimmins’s uniform is washed and ready for the almost-7-year-old’s second consecutive trip to the men’s lacrosse Final Four as an honorary Terp. It includes Maryland flag shorts, Maryland flag knee-high socks, a No. 1 Matt Rambo jersey and, perhaps most importantly, red underwear. Fionn only wears red underwear on game days.
Earlier this week, it was uncertain whether Fionn would be at Gillette Stadium for Saturday’s semifinal against Denver, where the No. 1 Terps look to move one step closer to winning the program’s first title since 1975. As Fionn’s dad, Conor, explained to Maryland Coach John Tillman, getting to Foxborough, Mass., isn’t as easy as the two-hour drive the family made to Philadelphia for last year’s Final Four. Fionn’s Maryland-themed seventh birthday party, scheduled for Sunday in Kensington, further complicated things. Tillman wasn’t having it, and he even offered to let the Crimminses use his airline miles to make the trip happen.
“His response was almost like, ‘I’m not taking no for an answer,’ ” Conor said. ” ‘You need to be there.’ ”
Fionn and Conor will fly to Boston on Saturday morning, using Conor’s airline miles, drive to Foxborough for the game and return to Maryland on Saturday night. If the Terps advance to Monday’s championship, the tentative plan is for the entire family, including Fionn’s mom, Casey, and his two younger brothers, to attend.
“We really feel like he’s a part of our team,” Tillman said. “The guys love seeing him and having him around. He’s developed some really strong relationships. Our team is better when he’s here and when he’s part of it. Just his energy, his passion, his joy that he brings is special. I know he always makes the guys smile, and I think it does give us a lift.”
Fionn, who had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia diagnosed in June 2014, has shared a lot of joyful moments with Tillman’s players over the past two seasons. He became an honorary member of the team in October 2015 after he was introduced to the Terps through Team Impact, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization that matches children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses with college athletic teams.
— Team IMPACT (@GoTeamIMPACT) April 26, 2017
Fionn and Conor attended as many home games as they could this season and spent time in the Maryland locker room before and after games. Fionn streamed games that he couldn’t attend on his dad’s phone, sometimes from the car en route to his own baseball or lacrosse practices.
“He’s fully, fully invested in this team,” Conor said.
And the team remains fully invested in Fionn, making him feel welcome at team functions, doing faceoff drills with him after practice and even dropping by his house to play Legos. Tillman, who texts Conor and Casey at least once a week to check in, sends Fionn postcards through the season and attended one of his lacrosse games in the fall.
During the week before last year’s semifinal game, Fionn composed a song about the Terps set to the tune of Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk” from his hospital bed. This year, the only music he wants to listen to is what the team plays in the locker room.
“I don’t even know what the songs are,” Conor said. “He’ll constantly be like, ‘Dad! Dad! Will you turn on the song?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know what song you’re talking about.’ I’ll text Coach Tillman, but he doesn’t know either. His only rule is it has to be clean.”
— John Tillman (@CoachTillman1) May 30, 2016
The team sang “Happy Birthday” to Fionn after last year’s semifinal win in Philadelphia. Two days later, Fionn joined Maryland’s players in the handshake line following the Terps’ overtime loss to North Carolina in the championship game. After Tillman consoled his players, he and Fionn shared a moment on the floor outside the locker room.
“We weren’t saying a lot, but I think he was trying to process what had just transpired,” Tillman said. “Knowing what he was going through, I was certainly disappointed for the young men in my locker room, but there was a sort of perspective that I gained from looking at him. This guy has been through a lot, and he’s got a positive attitude. . . . Certainly, he’s an inspiring guy.”
“To me, as a father, it was such a powerful moment,” Conor said. “You’ve got a room full of guys who are devastated and yet you take a moment to make sure Fionn is all right. . . . It was really neat to see. It was just an incredible human moment.”
Talk about putting a loss into perspective… Coach Tillman consoling Terps fan Fionn, who's fighting cancer… pic.twitter.com/VuxV9mGipB
— Brent Harris (@BrentHarrisTV) May 30, 2016
Fionn continues to respond well to treatment and has grown a full head of hair since last May, when Maryland players shaved their heads in solidarity. (He has started using hair gel like some of the guys on the team.) Fionn’s last chemotherapy treatment is scheduled for the first week in October, after which doctors will wait a month before doing blood tests to confirm that he is cancer-free. Casey, Fionn’s mom, said the prognosis at that point is “really, really good,” with a 90 percent chance that he won’t suffer a recurrence.
“We have every reason to be optimistic, and that said, we’ll definitely be holding our breath,” she said.
“Knowing that he’s doing so great means a lot to us,” Tillman said. “We hope that we’re able to help him a little bit, maybe be distracted or have something to look forward to, and something to get excited about.”
After assuring Tillman that he and Fionn would be making the trip to Foxborough on Saturday after all, Conor texted the Terps’ coach one more thing: I’ll take care of the tickets, you have to take care of the win.
“If it all goes to plan, we will be back up there on Monday,” he said.