He gave Amzie Smith a big hug and the autographed football with a special message: Keep Fighting, Stay Strong!
Then he invited her to walk with him during Card March, the team’s entrance into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium through a sea of waiting Cards fans.
Smith walked along, high-fiving everyone with a hand stuck out. Once she arrived in the stadium concourse, coach Bobby Petrino gave her a hug and a few words of encouragement. Smith had no idea what to expect when Louisville invited her to meet Jackson, fulfilling one of her wishes. Smith, who turns 17 on Saturday, has terminal liver cancer and does not know how much longer she has left.
But with every day she does have, Smith is determined to live the life she wants. That means enjoying every moment as best she can. Friday happened to be an extra-special day for the lifelong Louisville fan.
“It was super awesome,” Smith said. “[Lamar] came off the bus and was smiling and knew who I was and gave me the football and gave me a big hug. ... I didn’t know what to expect, so it was really fun and awesome to just experience the hype and just the pride that I have for the team.”
Smith was diagnosed with stage 4 adult liver cancer last October, a condition that is extremely rare in children. After she went through two rounds of chemotherapy with little success, the family decided this past June there would be no more treatments.
Doctors gave her a few weeks to a couple months to live. When she met with her hospice doctor in August, Smith said her goal was to make it to her birthday, Oct. 15.
“They had an agreement that they’d be totally honest with each other,” said Kathy Douglas, Smith’s mom. “She said put that on your calendar, but it’s a very big long shot for you, Amzie.”
In the meantime, Smith started her junior year at Ballard High. She was named junior homecoming princess last month, and has fulfilled many other wishes -- from riding in a hot-air balloon, to a cruise to the Caribbean, to a class trip to Europe.
Never once did she feel sorry for herself.
“It sounds really weird, but this has been such a blessing,” Smith said. “With this disease, I’ve gotten all kinds of exposure just on a bunch of different platforms and I’ve been able to share how God has been with me through this and how he’s allowed me to see the positives in everything, and I have a new perspective on life -- just living every day like it’s your last and living it for God. That’s where you find true happiness. In the midst of everything going on, I’m able to be happy every day and spread that forward to other people and the people around me and that’s been such a blessing.”
Louisville team chaplain Chris Morgan attends the same church as Smith and her family. He heard about her story last Sunday in church, and called Douglas to let her know Louisville would be able to help Smith meet Jackson.
Before the Louisville team buses arrived, Morgan waited with Smith and Douglas, along with Smith's stepdad, Tad Douglas; dad, Dan Smith; stepmom, Jennifer Mangeot-Smith; and sister, Kyndal Smith.
Smith said she wasn’t nervous about meeting Jackson, but extremely excited. She has been to football games through the years, including the Cards’ big win over Florida State last month.
So seeing another dream played out made Friday a great day. But Saturday will be even better.
Smith will have made it to her 17th birthday.