While the Eagles and the Chiefs are preparing to face off this Sunday in the Super Bowl, two football fans have already beat the odds.
John Gladwell and Billy Welsh first crossed paths while serving together in the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Welsh is a self-proclaimed lifelong fan of the Eagles, meanwhile Gladwell roots for the Chiefs.
The pair would occasionally keep in touch through social media, and Welsh eventually learned that he would need a lifesaving kidneys transplant. Welsh shared his need for a kidney on Facebook and Gladwell stepped in a short time later.
Gladwell underwent testing and discovered he was compatible. The two would later undergo an hours-long surgery at a hospital in Philadelphia.
Despite their connection today, the two men did not always get along.
“We did not like each other while we were in,” Gladwell told KMBC-TV in Kansas City. “He was 17, he was young, he was too enthusiastic. I just wanted to go home. I wanted out,” he added.
“He was a jerk,” Welsh said of Gladwell.
But, Welsh was shocked and very grateful that Gladwell volunteered to be his kidney donor.
“I was shocked, when he said he was a match and he was going to be in town next week, I cried,” Welsh said. “Never in a million years would I have ever thought that dude would’ve given me a kidney.”
Gladwell shared that he wanted Welsh to be able to still be able to spend time with his family in the future.
“I don’t think I could’ve lived with myself if I could do something but didn’t. I wanted him to have dad going to Eagles games, Phillies games, Flyers, 76ers all of that. I wanted him to be able to experience all of that with his dad,” Gladwell said.
After the kidney donation, a COVID-19 diagnosed would land Gladwell in the ICU. After he was admitted, Gladwell would learn that he was suffering with kidney failure.
Gladwell was able to make a recovery after a month. Welsh was happy to learn that his friend was able to make it through the ordeal.
“I’m so thankful that he pulled through, that both kidneys are still functioning,” Welsh said.
After news of the selfless act spread, the two men learned they would be making the trip to Arizona to watch their respective teams compete in football’s biggest game.
Eagle President Don Smolenski reached out the Chiefs and both organizations decided to their part to help get the fans to the Super Bowl. “The opportunity to bring these two guys together, their two teams playing on the biggest stage in sports, it’s very, very humbling and gratifying,” Smolenski told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Even though they’ll have different rooting interests on Sunday, the duo’s bond beyond the game appears to be unbreakable. “He’s family,” Gladwell said. “He’s my hero,” Welsh said.