There’s little debate that Super Bowl LI will go down as one of the most memorable championship games in NFL history. From an unprecedented 25-point comeback win to a halftime show for the ages, this year’s Super Bowl featuring the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons did not disappoint. While the matchup won’t soon be forgotten by the millions of football fans that tuned in to watch, it proved exceptionally special for three young men and their families who attended the game through Make-A-Wish.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Western New York chapter works year-round to grant the wishes of over 150 children who are suffering from life-threatening medical conditions. With the belief that the wish experience delivers hope and inspiration, the organization seeks to make a significant impact on the children they serve. For Alexander Sparbel, Ryan Butler and Vinny Cicatello, the trip to Houston was more spectacular than they could have ever imagined.
Alexander Sparbel, a fun-loving 14-year-old from Buffalo, N.Y, prides himself on being a big time Bills fan and overall sports fanatic. An accomplished athlete, Sparbel enjoys playing soccer, football, baseball and basketball. His passion for sports is a major part of his identity and when it came time to select a wish, attending the Super Bowl was a no-brainer.
“We all love the Bills—Buffalo Bills [are the] hometown team,” said Alexander’s mother Carey Sparbel. “[Alexander] knows all the players on all the teams [in the NFL]. I have three boys so there’s always some aspect of sports going on in this house. Alex is an athlete. He plays soccer, he kicks for the football team, he’s a baseball player, [and] he plays basketball for the community on the weekends.”
Accompanying Alexander on his once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Super Bowl were his two brothers, his mother and his Uncle Dave. Arriving in Houston on Thursday, Feb. 2, Alexander and his family had quite a weekend ahead of them.
“It was amazing,” said Carey when reflecting on the trip. “It was so worth it. They had it all planned out so there wasn’t a lot of thinking involved, which I appreciated. Going down there and having everything already done was very cool. They have so many wonderful things planned for the families and the kids got all sorts of cool stuff.”
For Alexander and the Sparbel family, the opportunity to spend quality time at the NFL Experience was one of the highlights of the weekend.
“I think personally just from watching [Alexander] that he thoroughly enjoyed the NFL Experience,” said Carey. “He loved running into random players and being able to be up close to them. I think just being surrounded by all those players that he watches on the weekend and to have
Although they come from different backgrounds, 19-year-old Ryan Butler of nearby Rochester, N.Y. also shared in Sparbel’s wish to see the big game in person. Butler has been a diehard Washington Redskins fan for as long as he can remember. Attending his first game with his father at just two years old, Butler was thrilled when he got the opportunity to meet his favorite player – quarterback Kirk Cousins.
“Friday [Feb. 3] we went to the NFL Experience and they had a party set up in the green room and they had all kinds of gifts set up,” said Butler. “They had a bunch of players come by in the green room and sign autographs. I got a picture with Kirk Cousins—I got to meet him. Eric Berry stopped by, Jameis Winston was there, Mike Evans was there, Corey Grant was there [and] Torrey Smith was there. It was incredible. Not only did everyone get to go to the Super Bowl, they got to go to the best Super Bowl of all time.”
Like both Sparbel and Butler, 20-year-old Vinny Cicatello wanted nothing more than to watch the Super Bowl live. However, for Cicatello who has been a dedicated Lady Gaga fan since her debut single “Just Dance,” this year’s game took on extra meaning.
“Just to go to the Super Bowl and to see the show as well,” said Cicatello when explaining his wish. “We always wanted to go to the Super Bowl too and it just turned out that Gaga was doing the show. The timing just seemed to work out perfectly.”
Along for the incredible journey was Cicatello’s father, grandmother and sister. Reflecting on the weekend, Cicatello explained that without question his favorite moment was attending the game and the halftime show, of course.
“It was definitely going to the game,” said Cicatello. “It was so amazing. It’s so different than watching it on TV. I can’t even explain the feeling of being there. It doesn’t feel real that you’re at the Super Bowl. I got to see Super Bowl history. It was everything that I thought it would be…it just looked so cool in person.”
Taking with him memories that will last a lifetime, Cicatello gave a special thank you to Make-A-Wish Western New York and to the Buffalo Bills for helping make his experience unforgettable.
“It really just meant everything to get away from all the stuff that is going on here and to be in a happy place for a little bit,” said Cicatello.