It was an ordinary evening. Sam, 24, and his fiancee, Emily, 26, both Kentucky natives working full time while finishing graduate school, sat on the bed watching a movie in Sam’s Elizabethtown apartment.
During a boring stretch, Sam picked up his phone to scroll through some emails — and saw the subject line that would create the memory of a lifetime.
It read, simply enough: “Congratulations!”
“I thought it was one of those cheesy things to get you to click on it,” recalls Sam. “I had to read it two or three times before it sunk in.”
Sam had just won two tickets to the Super Bowl.
On a whim, he had entered a Sports Fans Coalition contest that asked participants to write an essay about what made them the best fan to represent SFC at the Big Game. Sam, who prides himself on Kentucky storytelling and good writing skills, submitted this entry — and a few weeks later, the fateful email arrived on his phone.
“I need you to pause the movie!” Sam exclaimed. Turning to Emily, he explained (as calmly as he could) that they had just won a pair of tickets to the most important football game of the year.
Emily responded the way any of us would have responded:
“No you didn’t.”
But then she read the e-mail. This was real.
“We were both so stunned that we had to re-read it a bunch of times,” says Sam, recounting the beginning of a dream come true.
They called everyone they knew. Friends, relatives, co-workers. Some of them put the young couple on speakerphone so that others could hear two real, live winners of Super Bowl tickets.
“There was an emotional connection to it because it was something I’d written,” Sam says, recalling how incredible it was to not just have won Super Bowl tickets, but to have earned them through his essay. “I’ve never won anything this big in my life.”
THE BIG WEEKEND
Emily lives in Louisville, Sam in Elizabethtown (they will live together after they get married) —so on the Friday before the Big Game, they both got off work early and started the long drive from Kentucky to Houston, their car stocked with a cooler full of sandwiches.
It’s a 14-hour drive from Louisville to Houston, so the couple spent Friday night at a motel in Little Rock. The next morning, Emily said, “Guess what? Today, we’re actually going to have Super Bowl tickets in our hands!” She and Sam finished the drive to Texas and went straight to the fulfillment center to pick up their tickets.
When they arrived, Houston was bustling with excitement. “Downtown, the traffic lights were moot -- it was police in every intersection directing traffic. Signs up everywhere, lines of people everywhere. Kind of tough to tell what was what,” Sam says. “You could tell you’re in the presence of something big.”
Sam’s tickets even got the couple into some pre-game festivities in a special tent outside the stadium. Food, TVs, the whole shebang. “Super Bowl Sunday,” Sam says, “is like a holiday.”
Finally, it came time for the moment — kickoff. Sam and Emily took their seats, the National Anthem played, and the game began.
And what a game it was.
“Who could have predicted that we would witness the most historic Super Bowl ever?” Sam says. “Right after Peyton Manning retires after Super Bowl 50, you see that incredible game, see Manning go out like that, you figure that must be the best ever.”
Not quite — though it didn’t really seem like the game would be a classic after the Falcons raced to a three-touchdown lead.
“Seeing the Falcons come out like that, 14-0, then 21-0, there was just this momentum shift,” Sam says. “You could feel the momentum in the stadium based on what was happening with the Falcons defense. But no one was paying attention to the fact that the Falcons offense wasn’t really on fire. Maybe [Patriots coach Bill] Belichick saw it and maybe at halftime he told the team, ‘There’s a way to beat the Falcons.’ ”
But first, there would be a halftime show. Sam’s review?
“Lady Gaga was dope. Loved those drones. She was really cool.”
Then, Sam and Emily settled down for one of the most remarkable second halves in the history of football, when the Patriots erased a 25-point deficit to force overtime.
During the Patriots’ incredible comeback, Sam experienced firsthand what it means to be at a game, feeling the electricity of the crowd — the kind of thing you can’t get with even the nicest TV setup. “Once the Patriots got on that 31-point unanswered run, you had to talk loud just to hear each other,” he says.
“We’re sitting there. Emily and I are saying, ‘There’s no way the Falcons will lose this thing. They were up 25 points.’ But in a football game, a half is years. And when you have that sort of control, you can’t coast. I feel like [the Falcons] hit cruise control.”
“… We’re not Brady fans, not Patriots fans. We don’t love the Falcons, but we were rooting for them. We’re harassing Brady this whole time, having fun looking on my phone because all the stuff on the Internet is making fun of Brady, everyone’s predicting this loss. Maybe some of us in the crowd got too cocky. You might not like him, but he showed us all that he’s the greatest quarterback of all time.”
The fourth quarter started out with a Patriots field goal. Then one touchdown (with a two-point conversion). Then another (with another two-point conversion). And when the regulation clock ran out with a tie on the scoreboard, Sam and Emily knew they were witnessing history: the first Super Bowl overtime ever.
Then, the Patriots marched down the field almost unopposed, and James White scampered in with the game-winning touchdown. Brady and Co. had come all the way back.
What did it feel like in the stands at that moment? As Sam puts it, a little colorfully: “It’s like that face you get when something smells bad in the car but you don’t say anything because you don’t know if it’s coming from the outside or the inside. Everyone has that face. … You know you saw something historic, but you’re not that happy about it.”
After the game, not wanting to spend a lot of time in big crowds, Sam and Emily drove a couple of hours away from Houston to spend the night in a motel. They got back to Kentucky on Monday, taking the day off to recover.
Congratulations, Sam and Emily! Sports Fans Coalition thanks you for being great fans — and wishes you all the best on your wedding day and for the rest of your lives together.