NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Two-year-old Aadyn Allen got to stay up late Thursday night, sitting in section 125, row A, seat 7 at Nissan Stadium, the front row of the South end zone for the Jacksonville Jaguars-Tennessee Titans game, his first.
“We were sitting there and Aadyn kept asking for a ball,” his dad, Jimmie, said. “I was trying to explain that we had to wait until the Titans scored a touchdown. He kept saying, 'Cool, Daddy O.' Five minutes would go by, and he would ask, 'Daddy, football please, please?' I would say we have to wait, then he would say, 'Cool, Daddy O.'”
The wait paid off.
With 7:39 on the second-quarter clock, Marcus Mariota hit tight end Phillip Supernaw on the right side, and the tight end tiptoed the sideline and went 44 yards for an apparent touchdown. (The call was reversed on review, with Supernaw stepping out of bounds at the 14.)
The Titans, as per the request of coach Mike Mularkey, looked to give the ball to a kid.
Mularkey figures the giveaway reduces the chance of a celebration that could result in a penalty and connects the team to its fans. Each time a player does it, the coach donates $500 to the Tennessee ALS Association and controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk matches it. They are honoring former Titans linebacker Tim Shaw with the contributions.
Receiver Rishard Matthews wound up with the Supernaw ball, and spotted Allen.
“When Supernaw caught his pass, I could feel he was going to score,” Jimmie Allen said. “Aadyn and I stood up. Matthews saw us and brought the ball over. Aadyn was so happy. After he got the ball, he kept saying, 'Daddy throw it please?' I had to stop him from throwing it around.”
“He had a great time and slept with the football that night.”
Matthews was excited to hear that.
“I started on one side, I was trying to find the first kid,” he said. “I didn’t find one until I got to the other side. It was cool. I hope he remembers that forever, I hope they keep that ball. I hope he uses it for a pillow now, that’d be cool.”
“It’s for a very good cause, especially having a guy like Tim Shaw around, it’s a great cause to give that to.”
As head coach in Buffalo in 2004-05 and in Jacksonville in 2012, Mularkey made a similar deal with his players with a charity as the beneficiary.
“When they came out with excessive celebration, we started it in Buffalo,” said Mularkey, who in those days made a donation to Ronald McDonald House. “It made a lot of money. I donated a certain amount, and the franchise matched it.”
In Nashville, Mularkey talked to ownership about it, and as he got to know Shaw, a former Titans linebacker whom the team re-signed to make him a Titan for life, he gained an understanding of ALS.
“The kid thing, I’d seen other players doing it, and I thought it was one more way to reward someone,” Mularkey said. “So everyone wins. A kid wins, we look classy, we show it’s important to us, the charity wins.”
Shaw was in the Titans team meeting the night before their Sept. 11 season opener against Minnesota when Mularkey announced the plan.
"I am so appreciative of the doing versus the saying," Shaw said. "It's humbling to be the cause but also uplifting to be supported. We all need a purpose greater than ourselves to be a part of. If you don't have one, find one."
Only two of the team’s 18 touchdown balls this year weren’t given away in such fashion, and Mularkey has no problem with a player wanting to keep a ball. He said he’s not seeking to take the emotion out of the moment.
“I’m giving them an option,” Mularkey said. “I’m trying, first of all, to do something where we make sure we don’t get a penalty. And then, end result, a lot of people win. The kid's connection to the moment is forever and ever and ever.”
It sounds like that will be the case for Ryan Edwards, a 9-year-old who attends Thomas Magnet School in Shelbyville, Tennessee.
“We have seats in the end zone, and Ryan and [siblings] Sydnee and Aiden were sitting there,” their dad, Phillip, said. “Derrick Henry scored in the second quarter and handed the ball to the official. Delanie Walker got the ball and brought it over to Ryan.
“He has gone to almost every Titans home game since he was born, and this is probably as excited as he has ever been.”
Father and son Ernie and Kyle Prince of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, got Kendall Wright’s touchdown ball from right tackle Jack Conklin. Conklin picked up the slack for injured left guard Quinton Spain, who has regularly collected TD spikes and given the ball to a fan.
“Conklin was anxiously searching for a child to give the ball to, but there weren't any in our row,” Ernie Prince said. “I guess he settled for the oldest guy he could see. Quite frankly I felt guilty for getting it, knowing that a deserving kid was the target. I do have an 18-month-old grandson, Brayden, who will benefit though.”
Minor league baseball player Ryan Caldwell of the Tampa Bay Rays system got the ball Matthews caught for a TD from another lineman after the Titans' final touchdown of a 36-22 win this past Sunday.
And Caldwell may have been just as happy as little Allen because he too came to the game determined to take a football home.
“I came to the game dedicated to get a football -- whether it was a bad field goal, whether in warm-ups or during the game,” he said. “My hopes were going down as the game was coming to end.
“Whoever scored that touchdown celebrated but didn't care about giving up their ball. ... But a lineman snatched it from him and saw I was the most eager for the ball and tossed it to me. It really made my night.”