BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- It was Wednesday afternoon, and Sid Ortis was drained. He was sitting in his hospital room, two days removed from a surgery that was meant to help relieve the pain from a tumor in his knee, and he was ready to go home.
But when the conversation turned to football and his LSU Tigers, the 16-year-old immediately perked up.
What’d you think of that LSU win over Auburn on Saturday?
“It was a beatdown,” he said. “It was good because they beat us down last year.”
How good was Leonard Fournette?
“He was a monster.”
Anybody watching on TV could tell that Fournette was a monster Saturday. But Ortis didn’t watch the game on TV. He watched the game from the coach’s box at Tiger Stadium as a special guest of LSU coach Les Miles.
“It was probably my favorite college game I’ve ever been to,” he said later.
Ortis was diagnosed with cancer in August 2014 after doctors discovered a tumor in his knee. He went through chemotherapy for months, and just when he and his family thought he was close to beating it, they found out in February it had spread to his lungs and other parts of his body.
He wasn’t defeated. He was determined to keep fighting.
And he wasn’t alone. He had support from his family, friends, school and even his community. Neighbors in Birmingham, a city of fans split between Alabama and Auburn, put up purple and yellow balloons on their mailboxes the day Ortis returned home from the hospital in March.
That same day, Ortis got a call from Miles. The LSU coach invited him to attend a game during the upcoming season despite having never met him or his family.
On Saturday, that dream was realized.
Ortis and his family arrived early in Baton Rouge. They toured the locker room before the game, watching as the players got ready. They walked on the field during the pregame festivities, meeting former LSU stars like Matt Flynn and Kevin Mawae. Then, after the team had run out of the tunnel for warm-ups, Miles circled back to share a moment with his new friend.
“He said, ‘Let’s go get them Auburn Tigers,’ and gave me a hug,” Ortis said. “It was special for him to let me do all that stuff. Most kids don’t go through the locker room and get on the field and go in the coach’s box. I’m just really lucky that he’s that nice of a man to do that for me.”
“Sid and I have spoken, and he’s a fighter, a very, very quality man,” Miles said during Wednesday’s SEC teleconference. “I was fortunate to have him at the game and then come over there during pregame and spend a moment with him.
“He’s a hero. That guy right there is very special.”
The game itself couldn’t have turned out any better for Ortis. His LSU team dominated from start to finish, winning 45-21. At halftime, former LSU great Charles Alexander stopped by the box to talk with Ortis and his family. And the food wasn’t bad, either.
“They had crawfish etouffee. They had hot dogs. It was good,” Ortis said.
It was a day he won’t soon forget, regardless of what he’s going through. On the trip, he told his mom and dad that this was the best day ever.
“He loves LSU,” his dad, Scott, said. “He’s always loved LSU just because he’s been to it forever. It’s almost like he’s grown up in Louisiana because that’s the team he’s followed. And he did. He truly said, ‘This is the happiest day ever.’
“He was a kid. He was a normal kid who was getting to meet the head coach of his favorite team, getting to watch his favorite team and getting to watch them win big.”
Ortis returned home from the hospital Wednesday. He’ll be back in a couple of weeks to see whether the medicine is making any progress, but in the meantime, he just wants to be a normal teenager. He wants to get his driver’s license soon. He’s asked a girl to the homecoming dance next month. And of course, he’s already looking ahead at LSU’s remaining schedule.
“I think we’ll probably win every game except for Ole Miss,” Ortis said. “That’s the game I’m kind of scared about. But I just want to beat Alabama. That’s the main game.”
Spoken like a true LSU fan. Miles would be proud.