These two football fans may be mortal enemies when their teams meet in the Super Bowl, but they are on the same side when it comes to saving a life.
Philadelphia Eagles fan Billy Welsh will sit next to Kansas City Chiefs fan John Gladwell at the game on Sunday after Gladwell donated his kidney to Welsh more than two years ago. The two sat down to discuss their inspiring journey with Hoda Kotb on TODAY on Feb. 8.
The pair met more than 20 years ago when they both served in the Marines. They remained in touch through Facebook after they left the service, although they didn’t actually speak for years.
That changed in 2019 when Welsh wrote on Facebook that he needed a kidney. Gladwell had himself tested and discovered he was a perfect match. He and Welsh then underwent a 10-hour transplant at a Philadelphia hospital.
Welsh said he was moved when Gladwell decided he would step up and help him.
“It meant the world to me. I was speechless. John Gladwell is my hero,” Welsh told Hoda on TODAY Wednesday.
Gladwell said he didn’t hesitate to donate the kidney because Welsh is a father to a son who is not much older than his own grandson.
“I wasn’t going to let his son grow up without his dad being there for everything,” Gladwell said.
Gladwell may have saved another man’s life, but he never let the enormity of the moment overwhelm him, especially right after the surgery.
“Just another day. I had it set in my head that no matter what happened, it’s just another day,” he said.
Gladwell also said their Super Bowl moment this weekend will be especially poignant because his wife has been undergoing treatment for cancer.
“She’s never been able to ring the bell for remission. That’s one thing we’re definitely doing,” he said, choking up.
Welsh and Gladwell's story eventually found its way to the Eagles. Team president Don Smolenski contacted the Chiefs, and the two teams agreed to send both men to the Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.
“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.
“I was stunned,” Welsh told TODAY about how he felt when he got the call from Smolenski.
And while the men will be forever bonded, the goodwill ends when it comes to the big game. Both men are adamant their respective teams will win, and Welsh even joked about what it's been like living with an organ from someone who roots for the opposing team.
“A Chiefs kidney? I don’t know how my body will react if the Chiefs win," he said. "The Eagles are going to win. Go Birds."