Terminally ill Packers fan to live Lambeau fantasy
South Kitsap, Wash. — It's not easy being a cheesehead in Seahawks territory.
Just ask Josh McCall who, since 1996, has been a steadfast Green Bay Packers fan. Friends back then ribbed him. His family tried to bring out the Seahawk in him. But McCall stood firm through the years in his love of the Packers and his idol, the late Reggie White, among other storied players on the team.
And he's not even from Wisconsin.
McCall, 30, is terminally ill with complications of cerebral palsy. He has never been to a Packers game. Thanks to the generosity of friends far and wide, Sunday he will fulfill his ultimate football fantasy: watching the Packers play the Seahawks ... at Lambeau Field.
Family and friends have scrambled to put the trip together for McCall, having raised just more than $9,000 on GoFundMe in less than two weeks.
Time is short. His future is uncertain. Plagued by frequent systemic infections and failing organs, on top of a lifetime of limited mobility, McCall has decided he's done with surgeries and hospitalizations. He only will pursue palliative care.
"He made the decision a month ago he was tired. He wanted to live his time, whatever time he has, to the fullest and at home," said his mom, Stacey McCall, thanking donors. "This trip is really a huge thing for us to be able to do for Josh."
"I can't wait!" he said.
The oxygen machine hisses and sighs in the downstairs room Stacey and Jeff McCall have converted for their son's comfort and care. From his hospital bed, McCall watches games and highlights on a big-screen TV. The walls are plastered with Packers paraphernalia: ball caps, posters, commemorative plaques from at least two of the Packer's four Super Bowl wins. The others are probably hidden somewhere under all the stuff.
There's a photo of Vince Lombardi and a Brett Favre action figure. There's the obligatory cheesehead and even a "cheesebutt" stadium seat.
Above the wheelchair by the bed is a Green Bay Packers Christmas wreath and on the table, by the Purell dispenser, a tree adorned with Green Bay ornaments. McCall's bent frame is tucked under a Green Bay fleece. Above his head, on an IV pole, a monitor blinks his vital signs.
Fan of Reggie White
McCall's interest in the Packers was ignited two decades ago when he saw Reggie White in a postgame prayer circle. Known as the "Minister of Defense," White, who died in 2004 of a respiratory disease, was an ordained minister and played defensive end for Green Bay from 1993 through 1998. His faith on and off the field struck a chord with McCall, who draws from a deep well of belief, according to his mom.
"Josh is kind of an old soul. He's been that way all his life," she said.
Word of McCall's wish has gotten around Packers Nation. Like a snowball growing, someone knows someone who calls someone. Little elves have seen to it that McCall will get a field pass and the chance to meet former players, including former running back Ahman Green.
On Monday, McCall got a call from former fullback William Henderson, who played 12 seasons with Green Bay, from 1995 through 2006.
"I'm a huge Packers fan, going all the way back to 1996," McCall told Henderson.
"That is fantastic, man. That is amazing," Henderson, on speaker, said. "Fans like you are what makes it great for players like us."
Henderson gave McCall tips on visiting Lambeau Field and promised to have a replica jersey sent to his hotel room. McCall grinned and his hands shook with excitement.
His mom stroked his head.
"It will go in my collection," he said. "I appreciate that. Thanks very much for calling."
McCall, the youngest of three children, has lived a full life. He's snorkeled in Hawaii and been shimmied down the side of a mountain in his wheelchair. He's been a bowler, played in a wheelchair soccer league and attended Camp Easter Seal.
He graduated from high school and lived in an assisted living setting until three years ago, when his worsening condition led to his moving home with his parents.
"He's never complained about his disability," his mom said. "He's always taken it that this is the life that God gave him."
McCall seems at peace with what's to come. His mom, yes and no.
"It's hard as a mom, because you want to keep fighting, but he's tired. I get that," she said. "I get that, and he's fought hard."
Donors on his GoFundMe page call McCall "an inspiration," "truly an amazing person." But those that happen to be Seahawks fans aren't cutting him slack.
"God bless and keep you safe," wrote one donor. "However, go Hawks!"