This weekend, I had the honor of meeting up with the Thornton family members that made the trip to Indianapolis in their dad’s stead to watch the Spartans clinch the Rose Bowl berth that Dallas has been dreaming about his entire life. Of course, it was bittersweet for them. While wandering around downtown Indianapolis Saturday afternoon, every once in awhile you could see Jeff and Kelli drift off in their mind, probably thinking about their dad.
Their dad — who wanted nothing more than to be there with them — was lying in his bed in Williamston. His health didn’t allow him to make the 5-hour trip south. In fact, Kelli told me, Friday was a pretty rough day, health-wise. One of his worst ever.
But he made it through it and was tuned into the Big Ten Championship Game Saturday night as the Spartans and Buckeyes kicked off in Lucas Oil Stadium. He didn’t stay awake through the entire game but he woke his wife up at some point in the middle of the night to ask her about the result. He was very happy when she gave him the news.
“He was so incredibly excited today,” Kelli told me on Sunday with a smile. ”He chanted, ‘We’re going to the Rose Bowl’ pretty much most of the day.”
According to Kelli, Sunday was the best day Dallas has had in about 6 weeks.
“He kind of seems like my dad of old today,” Kelli said. ”He hasn’t been able to focus lately due to the tumor. But today, he was focused. He had his wit about him and begged us to go to the Rose Bowl and honor him.”
Jeff and Kelli have been wrestling with that decision.
Their dilemma: go to Pasadena and honor their father’s request? Or spend the time here with their dad and mom in what could be his final days.
In the end, the Thorntons have decided that they will stay in mid-Michigan for the Rose Bowl. They will tailgate with their dad. They’ll spend these precious last moments with him, cheering along with him as the Spartans take on the Stanford Cardinal in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl.
“The way he was today,” Kelli said, “he will definitely be around for the big game day.”
If all goes according to plan, Dallas will have the radio on at 5:00pm on New Year’s Day. He won’t be in Pasadena. And he might not be able to see the game on the television because of his worsening eyesight. But he sure will be able to picture it in his mind. And he’ll have his family by his side, cheering along with him.
The Michigan State players who cared enough to stop by his bedside will be 2,200 miles away, trying to deliver one of their biggest fans a Rose Bowl victory — a victory that Dallas will hopefully be able to celebrate right alongside his family.
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