Game Day for Dad

Author: Tabitha Bonilla

The first professional football game I was able to attend was bittersweet.  My initial reaction to the news my mother and I had been selected to attend the Carolina Panthers Salute to Service game was sadness actually; the person I most wanted to experience a live professional football game with, was my father. It was something we were going to finally have the time to do when he retired. Unfortunately, just as he was coming home from deployment, to finally do exactly that, he died.

Carolina Panthers

My father was a serious Cowboys fan until Carolina got their own team, he loved the Panthers with as much enthusiasm as he had loved the Cowboys.  He finally had a “home” team he could identify with and he made sure the world knew it by immediately decking himself out with Panthers’ gear. Finding out teams4taps had partnered with the USO of North Carolina and the Carolina Panthers to give families of the fallen an opportunity to attend a game in honor of our fallen heroes pulled at my heart strings in more ways than one; especially, when my mother and I found out the Carolina Panthers players would represent our loved ones by wearing their initial on their helmets.  #58 Thomas Davis, Sr. was selected to wear my dad’s initials. After hearing about the humble and kind man Thomas is on a personal level from some of the Carolina staff, I immediately felt a connection with him and my father. 

The game was amazing! The fourth quarter kept us all on the edge of our seats as the Green Bay Packers were extremely reluctant to hand over the win without fighting for it. In the last several minutes as Green Bay had the ball and were going for a touchdown, #58 Thomas Davis honoring my dad, intercepted the ball. I remember moments earlier, silently saying a prayer and hoping I would see this team win it, for all those service members on their helmets, but at that moment, very selfishly, for my dad. I screamed and jumped up and down for joy at the realization of Thomas’ intercepting that ball meant it had happened. THEY WON! 

It may be just a game, but to many Americans like my father, football is part of your household, part of how you connect with your family and friends, and part of you. It was beautiful to celebrate the victory with a team carrying the names of so many who with their lives paid for our ability to enjoy this sweet part of our American culture.  Why I was given the opportunity still saddens me, but I relish the sweetness of being part of such an awesome experience, in that, it honored all our military’s men and women in service and especially dear to my heart, my dad.