By Sam Mooney
My story is a tale of incredible kindness, a father-son relationship, and the Philadelphia Eagles. It starts when I was a 10-year-old boy; watching Randall Cunningham on “Monday Night Football” against the Giants. That play, that touchdown, that player sparked a lifelong fandom that would take me places I never thought I’d be. I live in a small town in South Dakota. Stories like this just don’t happen to us.
Fast forward 20-plus years to October 2012. That 10-year-old boy is now a 33-year old married man and father of four. Life, as it tends to, has happened. But I remain a devoted Eagles fan. I’ve passed on my love of the team to my oldest son. Every Sunday, come hell or high water, we sit down together and watch the Eagles game. Regardless of how busy I am at work or how busy he is at school (he’s 12) we are watching our team.
During this time, we’ve cemented a special bond together. We talk about continuing this tradition when he’s a parent and passing it down to generations. Mistakes I’d made early in fatherhood had damaged my relationship with my son. I’d worked hard to repair them over the years and our common love of the Eagles is an important bond; helping to make that happen.
The Eagles were having a less than stellar season. My co-workers were teasing me relentlessly about the team’s struggles. It occurred to me how difficult it must be on the Eagles and their organization. So I sent an email to Dave Spadaro, Eagles media guru. I told him that regardless of the scoreboard, the team has two loyal fans all the way in South Dakota. That although this season may be trying and difficult that they have two fans that watch every week. That although circumstances may be hard, a father-son relationship has developed thanks to the organization. What happens next is a whirlwind of unbelievable events.
Not only does Spadaro take the letter from an anonymous fan in South Dakota to the team to read, but he goes the extra mile and sends it to Don Smolenski, president of the Philadelphia Eagles. What Mr. Smolenski does next is every father’s dream.
Mr. Smolenski not only read my email, he sent me a personalized letter and my son a Shady McCoy jersey. My son and I were incredibly thrilled by this. I mean, what fan has a personalized letter from the president of their favorite team? My son walked around with his jersey on, head held high, chest puffed out. You’d think there was a Superman logo on that shirt. He was proud; I was proud watching him. His friends were jealous. This is where our experience takes off.
I sent Mr. Smolenski an email thanking him and to my surprise, he answers. Now to add to our letter, and my son’s jersey, I’m having ongoing correspondence with the president of the Eagles. This goes on for a few months. Every time another email comes in I share it with my wife and, of course, my son. We all smile and share a laugh.
In February (or whenever), I emailed Mr. Smolenski that my son and I were making the trek out to Philly for the home opener. His response was “the tickets are on us.” I remember telling my son this and watching his smile light up like a Christmas tree.
The sense of excitement hit hard at that point. We both knew it was going to be a long seven months. Somehow we survived the dead season, when only the NBA and MLB are playing, and make it to Sept. 13. We land in Philadelphia with no idea what to expect. We check into our hotel room, drop off our luggage and head to the Linc. My son and I spend some time walking around while I share stories. I tell him about the electricity of 67,000 fans singing the fight song, how chances are we’ll never get back here again, how incredible this is. We stop and try to soak up everything we are seeing. I step back and reflect and watch him. It’s one of those few moments in life where you can feel its gravity as it’s happening.
When we get back to our room and open the door we find a clear plastic bag with the Eagles logo on it. We grab each other and jump up and down while hugging; laughing uncontrollably like a couple of kids. Inside the bag were two hats, two schedules, a gift card to the pro shop, two tickets to the Temple game, two tickets to the Eagles game, two sideline passes, and another personalized letter from Mr. Smolenski. We are beyond elated at this point. All of our expectations had been surpassed.
Sept. 15 is game day. After getting a private tour of the Nova Care Complex from Dave Spadaro, he tells us to meet him outside the pro shop. From there we follow Dave through a tunnel and next thing I know, we are running down the sideline on the field! We follow Dave through the end zone and stop and look around.
Watching my son catch footballs off the net alone was worth every dollar I spent to get there.
From there we met Darwin Walker, Merrill Reece, Howie Roseman, A.J. Feeley, the Eagles cheerleaders. Later we’d meet Jeremiah Trotter, chat with Adam Caplan, watch Dave Spadaro do Eagles Live from inside the studio, and even did an interview with the local Fox network. Mr. Smolenski’s assistant, Liz, was treating us like royalty.
We were VIP down on that field that day. Then Mr. Smolenski comes walking towards us. After a brief visit, a handshake, a photo, he was on his way. What do you say to a man that helped give your son the trip of a lifetime? Those brief moments with him will last an eternity to my son and I.
The Eagles lost that game 33-30. There were 66,998 disappointed Eagles fans in attendance that day. There were also two guys from South Dakota that just wrapped up an incredible experience. I remember sitting with my son watching piles of people leave the stadium. We sat and discussed the game a little. I told him to let this sink in. Remember this feeling, this weekend, and this experience. Do this with your son. Make lifelong memories together that no one can take away.
The saying goes “Any Given Sunday” – Any given Sunday, “The Catch” can happen, the “Immaculate Reception” can happen, the “Miracle at the Meadowlands” can happen, even the “The Miracle at the New Meadowlands” can happen. You know what else can happen? A father and son can share a bond with 53 guys that are over 1,100 miles away. An organization on the other side of the country can help repair a relationship between a father and son. An act of kindness from a complete stranger can turn father and son into best friends.
Last season, the Eagles finished 4-12. This year they made the playoffs. No matter what the record, I owe this team a great deal of gratitude. This team, this city, those people, changed my relationship with my son forever. “Any given Sunday” a not-so-good team can beat a better team. On that given Sunday with the help of a football team and a select group of people, a father and son became best friends for life.
About the author: Mooney is the son of a career newspaper man. He lives with his family in Watertown, S.D. and opines aboDut the Eagles on Facebook.