Dressing that day in the basement of his parents' Warrenton home was different than any other in the 21 years of Eric Gay's life.
There was nothing unusual about thumbing into place the seven buttons of a white dress shirt or sliding the knot of a tie snuggly against his neck, but finishing the ensemble with a Duke basketball jersey made it peculiar.
Eric wasn't sure the jersey was appropriate for attending a wake, but his parents, Tom and Pam, deemed it suitable. It was unique garb for an inimitable day.
Eric had initially slipped on the No. 4 uniform only to ensure it wouldn't be forgotten when the family left for Moser Funeral Home. He planned to place it in the casket of his brother Patrick, a memento signifying the sibling bond of a shared obsession over former Duke star J.J. Redick.
The middle of Tom and Pam's three sons, Patrick's fanaticism for Redick was rivaled only by younger brother Eric, older brother Chris and neighbor Sam Kettering. For that reason, the Gay family decided to bury Patrick with a pair of authentic Redick jerseys.
Eric, and subsequently Chris, wearing identical Duke jerseys at the wake became an added tribute. They greeted family and friends at Moser with the blue neck trim and Duke lettering of the jerseys exposed, framed nicely by the lapels of their black suit jackets.
Some mourners noticed the unique "vests" and questioned the family, but most in attendance immediately recognized the jerseys' significance. After all, the boys were dedicated enough as Redick fans that Tom and Pam had pondered dressing Patrick for the viewing in a No. 4 jersey.
They decided on more traditional attire for Patrick, but the jerseys still played a prominent role.
"Everyone who knew how they were huge fans of Redick was touched by it," Tom said.
It even brought tears to the eyes of complete strangers. Namely, J.J. Redick.
Weekend with Redick
Chris and Eric Gay, and family friend Sam Kettering, found themselves in a club level room at the Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando on Jan. 3, reading a text message from J.J. Redick. The Orlando Magic guard had arrived in the lobby and was ready to drive them to dinner.
Redick had brought the trio down to Florida after hearing the story of Patrick Gay's wake, so in essence, it was Patrick's tragic death that led to this special weekend.
Six months earlier, on July 15, 2007, Chris was wakened at 4 a.m. by a pounding on the front door of his parents' home. Chris had a 9 a.m. appointment in Charlotte, N.C., where he also planned to visit Patrick, so he tried to sleep through the noise. But then the phone began ringing incessantly.
Chris, a Virginia Tech graduate working at Fauquier Hospital, finally ventured upstairs from the basement to survey the situation, and he saw beams of light shining through the windows.
"It didn't know if I was being robbed, or what," said Chris, whose parents were in Blacksburg visiting their youngest son Eric, a Virginia Tech student working a summer engineering co-op. "So I called the neighbors, and I [said], 'Look out your door, what's going on?'"
The neighbors told Chris, 25, that two police cars were parked outside, so he opened the front door. Officers informed him that his brother Patrick had been killed two hours earlier as a pedestrian in a hit and run accident in Charlotte, where the 22-year-old had begun working as a mortgage broker at LendingTree after graduating from James Madison University in the spring.
"I would never want to meet Redick if something like this had to happen. I'd rather have Pat here still," Chris said recently. "But it's good to know some good things can come out of this, because other than that, there hasn't been many uplifting experiences since July."
The guys' weekend with Redick began at Capital Grill. They ate dinner and spent the rest of the night at the Universal CityWalk area, eventually watching Virginia Tech's Orange Bowl game at Bubba Gump.
The next day, they watched Redick's Orlando Magic play the Houston Rockets, sitting in the third row next to Redick's younger brother David. Afterward, Redick drove the guys to The Cheesecake Factory for dinner and they later relaxed at a lounge, where they shared the room with Tiger Woods and met some of Redick's friends, like former Clemson quarterback Will Proctor and Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu.
"I think I speak for Eric and Chris when I say this was the best weekend of my life, easily," said Sam, 22, a Notre Dame Academy graduate and current senior at Boston College.
Patrick would have likely agreed.
"Pat is looking down smiling at this whole weekend,” Tom said. “Pat and his new buddy God made this all happen."
While Redick, 23, paid for virtually everything ― round-trip plane tickets, two nights at the hotel, meals out, game tickets, etc. ― it was the time he spent with the guys, the genuine interest he showed in them and the candid conversation he offered that they appreciated most.
"I figured it'd be a nice thing to do to get their minds off everything," Redick said. "It was my gift to them, and they were fun guys; good guys."
Soon after Patrick's funeral on July 20, friends of the Gay family tried contacting J.J. Redick indirectly.
Redick's brother David was reached via Facebook and Tina Ross (the mother of Patrick's best friend Jonathan) sent an e-mail to Redick's mother Jeanie who, in turn, sent the Gays a sympathy card in August. Soon thereafter, Eric posted a note about Patrick's death on Redick's blog and received an e-mail in return.
"It said, 'If you guys are interested, I'd like to bring you down for a game,'" Sam recalled. "To read that: 'If you're interested.’ Huh? Of course we're interested."
After trading about 10 e-mails with Redick, the guys decided on a Jan. 3-5 trip. Redick was happy to accommodate and planned a fun weekend for them.
"I was really touched by their story and their brotherly bond of being Duke fans," Redick said afterward. "I grew up a Duke fan and have that same brotherly bond… My brother is my closest friend in the world."
"I love you J.J.," Patrick Gay yelled at his idol from the front row of Cassell Coliseum, where he stood with brother Eric, then a freshman in Blacksburg, and parents Tom and Pam.
Normally a profession lost amidst the fog of noise in an arena, Patrick yelled this well before the start of that 2005 Duke game against Virginia Tech, and J.J. Redick was near enough to hear his words.
"J.J. looks up at him surprised, like, 'This kid is the same age as me,'" Eric recalled. "You'd think a little girl would yell that."
Eric told that story as a part of the eulogy for Patrick in July. He also told it to Redick when he, Chris and Sam visited the Magic guard earlier this month.
The anecdote got a laugh from both audiences, and it's only one of many stories that parade the guys' obsession.
Sam also told Redick a story about the guys buying $100 tickets for a Wizards-Magic game, despite knowing Redick wouldn’t play. As they peered down from the upper deck, cheerleaders began to dance on the court and Sam noticed that Patrick was staring down at the floor through binoculars. He asked what Patrick was looking at.
"He's like, 'God, Redick looks so good in a suit,'" Sam recalled with a laugh. "Any normal college-aged guy would be watching the cheerleaders, and he comes with that."
The 2005-06 National Player of the Year, Redick is used to such lavish attention, though. He's also been on the other side of fanaticism.
"So I didn't think it was bizarre. I'm still a huge Trajan Langdon fan and a Shane Battier fan," Redick said. "And I'm a huge Brett Favre fan."
That fact made a text message immensely meaningful when Redick received it from Eric, Chris and Sam after their weekend with him. It said, "Just to let you know, you're our Brett Favre."
Redick became the idol of Sam and the three Gay siblings after playing in the 2002 McDonald's All-American High School game. Then their obsession grew when Redick began playing in college.
"He just looks like us playing at Duke. It's that connection," Sam said. "He's a 6-foot-4 white guy and...he doesn't look like he overwhelms you with athletic ability."
For Pam Gay, that link was especially strong with Patrick. He grew up dreaming of being an NBA player, and if his abilities had taken him further than the freshman basketball team, Pam believes he would have been a figure much like Redick.
"Patrick was such a good, caring kid, and if the roles had been reversed ― if Patrick was an NBA player and he had heard of a family like ours ― he would have done the same thing," Pam said. "He had the same type of heart as J.J."
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