It happens every football season. Grown men in stretchy pants slap each other on the ass while grown men in fat shorts cheer. It’s also the time of year that I am reminded about one of my favorite blog posts ever.
The blog got blowed up — a case of assholishness on my part and a fear of being sued on my employer’s. But, this time of year, I still think about little Eli. It was back in 2006. LSU preparing for it’s second national football championship, and my sports team was looking for the ultimate LSU fan to smother with purple and gold bling. That’s when I met Eli.
I knew Eli was a different kind of fan when I pulled into his driveway. There Eli stood, actually he bounced. He was wearing a purple and white Tiger’s shirt, a plastic LSU helmet and carrying a stuffed toy football. Did I mention Eli was just three years old? But that’s not what makes him different. I’ve met lots of toddlers that can shout “Go Tigers!” right along with their parents.
Eli’s Mom filled us in. Eli was born five weeks pre-mature. He suffered brain damage, was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, and last year, Autism. But he’s got a purple and gold heart as big as Glenn Dorsey.
Eli’s speech developed later than most kids, and he’s a little hard to understand at times, but ask him who’s his favorite team, and his eyes light up, his smile gets even wider and he’ll tell you in no uncertain terms. “LSU.” And his favorite player, “Peri-woo!”
Eli’s mom isn’t sure how that happened, but the LSU fight song, and pictures of Ryan Perrilloux are about the only things that can cheer him up when he’s having a rough day.
On the wall next to Eli’s bed is a newspaper article about Perrilloux after the SEC Championship game. His helmet is off and his index finger is in the air. If you ask Eli what he’s doing, he’s quick to tell you, “Not playin’.” Erin and I spent a little time in the back yard throwing the ball and trying to catch Eli, then took him to see Mike the Tiger. But all that was just to pass the time. We had bigger plans for the Ultimate Fan. We had an appointment at the LSU practice facility.
It took Eli a little while to spot him, he was in a green jersey after all, but the smile on his face and the genuine laugh when he recognized number 11 was the most heart warming thing I’ve ever seen. And I’ve got to admit, I was glad I had a camera in my face to hide the tear pooling in my eye. Perrilloux was fantastic. He squatted and gave Eli a big hug. He answered Eli’s favorite question, “Why?” every time he asked it, and signed a few footballs and hats for Eli and his family. He even let Eli wear his helmet.
Eli’s Mom told us it was the best gift Eli’s ever gotten. But judging from the faces in the small circle around Eli that afternoon, we were the ones given a gift. In the midst of the team’s championship preparations, and the chaotic behind-the-scenes planning for our coverage here at 9News, Eli reminded us that it’s the little things that make the biggest difference. I guess it’s only fitting that this little guy is LSU’s biggest fan.
I still talk with Eli’s mom. Seven years later, Eli has come out of shell some. His smile is just as infectious. Last year, I watched as he prepared for the state’s Gumbo Games. He ran circles around my camera. But that energy doesn’t last long. You see, Eli still battles multiple health problems, problems that his mom knows will take Eli before she’s done raising him.
Eli doesn’t let any of that slow him down. He lives every day — even the bad ones — like it’s a gift. But what makes him special in my eyes is that he never misses a chance to make someone else feel special. Whether it’s through his words, his actions, or that big smile, a few minutes with Eli cannot help but brighten your day.
So, this season, while you’re tailgating with your favorite foam finger, or painting your face your favorite colors, remember it’s just a game. What’s important is the time spent the doofus doing keg stands. Take a second to make your favorite fan feel special. Eli would appreciate it.