He looked as excited as an 11-year-old could after being told he was going to watch a seniors bowling tournament.
My son was already rather confused, as he really had no idea what was going on. He knew he had a “special day” planned, but that was it. He asked a lot of questions, but we wouldn’t tell him what was we were doing. When he and I got on the interstate, more questions. No answers.
A couple of hours later, we pulled off the interstate in Atlanta. “Isn’t this the way to Pop and Nana’s house?” Finally, I gave an answer. Yes, it is.
When we pulled into my inlaws’ driveway, he was beaming. He hopped out of the car and sprinted to the door. When he saw his Nana, he grabbed her and gave her a big hug. She immediately added confusion to his world. “What are you doing here?” I held back laughing.
When his Pop came from a back room, he said, “Oh, hey. I’m just getting ready to go a seniors bowling tournament. You wanna go with me?”
Parker was trying to figure out what was going on. “Um, OK.” He then keenly observed something. “Pop, why are you wearing a Falcons shirt?”
“We’re in Atlanta. It’s what you do,” I said.
I told him it was time to get dressed. He then saw I had put on a Falcons shirt. I handed him his Falcons jersey to wear. “I’m suspicious,” he said, which shows me he’s got a pretty good radar.
A short while later, we were in a friend’s car heading toward Downtown Atlanta. It was then we broke the news to Parker that we were not, in fact, going to watch old people bowl.
My father-in-law’s buddy Steve has been a Falcon season ticket holder since, well, since there were Falcons season tickets. He has missed two home games. I am sure he has a good excuse.
Being a season ticket holder, Steve was invited to the Falcons Draft Night Party at the Georgia Dome, and he invited us to come and enjoy the festivities.
My father-in-law called me and we put in motion the plan to surprise Parker. And surprised he was. I looked at him and thought there is no way you could make an 11-year-old who loves football smile bigger.
When we walked into the Georgia Dome, I found I was wrong. As he peered over the field, he saw the whole floor of the Georgia Dome was set up with games, activities, player autograph tents and just general running-around-on-the-field freedom. “CANWEGODOWNTHERE!?!?!?!?!?!” he asked in a sentence that took about 1/100th of a second.
“No.” I said. “Time to go home.”
Ha! Little dad humor there. We did go down there, shortly after dining on the delicious health food spread of chili dogs, wings and nachos. Important life lesson for my son: The chili may be next to the hot dogs, but who says you can’t top some nachos and cheese with it? No one, that’s who. Because this is America. Pile it up, son. Top it with a wing if you feel so inspired.
We headed down the elevator to get to the field. Halfway down, the elevator stopped, and several large men wearing Falcons jerseys got on. Clearly, these were not just fans, in particular No. 80, who was roughly the size of a Coke machine. Parker stood and stared up at this wall of a man. As we stepped off the elevator, my son tugged at his jersey. We had given Parker a football to get player signatures with. As the man looked down at Parker, presumably waiting for the sound to travel up that high, Parker extended his football. “Will you sign this?” Levine Toilolo, a 6’8” tight end who will be trying to fill the shoes of future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, took the ball and signed it, and then said to Parker, “You want to get a picture?” Parker just nodded rapidly.
We met several other players, as well as Wes Durham, the voice of the Falcons. Parker also got to run around on the field and throw balls through tires, kick field goals and just play a game of catch at the Georgia Dame.
My son still hasn’t come down from the high of the evening, and I hope it ranks as one of his great nights as a kid. I just hope he’s not disappointed we didn’t get to watch seniors bowl.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.