Timmy Kelly never saw the emotion he brought to 67,717 fans on that wintry day in January of 2005.
Only hours after a nasty blizzard dumped a foot of snow and crippled much of the Philadelphia region, Kelly belted out a rendition of the National Anthem that stirred the souls in attendance. He could feel the touch of the Eagles players who came up to thank him after his performance. Inspired and moved by little Timmy Kelly, who was 11 at the time, the Eagles went out won their second NFC Championship in franchise history and treated the fans across the world with a ticket to Super Bowl XXXIX.
The Eagles persevered through four trips to the NFC title tile before they reached the Super Bowl and Timmy's journey to the 50-yard line on that special day was nothing short of a miracle. Timmy was born premature, about 10 weeks early. At birth, he was diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy (a neurological disorder that affects body movement and muscle coordination) and retinopathy (his retinas were not attached which has left him blind). He spent the first four months of his life in the hospital's intensive care unit.
Timmy is the definition of toughness, a characteristic that is fitting for the City of Philadelphia. While he was not blessed with the gift of sight, he was brought into the world with a voice that can open the eyes of people who are skeptical about the potential of those who are challenged by aspects of life that many of us take for granted. Timmy's gift may not have been opened if it was not for a chance meeting with a Broadway performer. Timmy went to see the production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, which starred Philadelphia native Andrea McArdle in the lead role as Belle. After the performance, Timmy was able to meet McArdle backstage. Timmy belted out a few notes for her and she insisted that he began to train with her voice coach in Philadelphia.
Shortly after he began training, he auditioned to sing the National Anthem at an Eagles game. Of the 500-plus people who tried out Timmy made the final 25. Out of those 25, only three would have the chance to perform at an Eagles home game. Timmy himself admits that he was "too excited" on the day of the finals. When the high notes of the Anthem came, he just couldn't hit them. He just stopped in the middle of the performance. Instead of turning his back on a dream, Timmy was more determined than ever to come back.
"I left the Vet that day in tears," said Kelly. "I knew I could do a better job and I vowed to be back."
This was, after all, the first blind child to be mainstreamed as a kindergarten student into the Philadelphia public school system, at Anne Frank Elementary in Northeast Philadelphia. Timmy returned the next year to audition and once again made the final 25. This time, however, a family vacation would have Timmy out of town on the day the final auditions were scheduled. Timmy had to wait another year, but it was worth it. In 2003, the year that the Eagles would christen Lincoln Financial Field, only two people were selected from the final auditions to sing at a home game.
"After everyone had performed, I held my breath as they announced the winners - 'The next person who will sing in front of 70,000 screaming Eagles fans is TIMMY KELLY.' I can't begin to tell you what that moment meant to me. I was a blind child afflicted with cerebral palsy," said Kelly.
Timmy got his first chance on the big stage when the Eagles lined up against the Saints on Nov. 23, 2003. The Eagles cruised to a 33-20 win, which was part of a nine-game win streak that helped catapult the team to homefield advantage through the playoffs and eventually the NFC Championship Game. After the Saints game, the Eagles were flooded with phone calls and e-mails who wanted to know more about Timmy and demanded that he performed again.
"The fans considered me the team's good luck charm," Kelly exclaimed.
The Eagles have won almost every game when Timmy belts out the anthem from the 50-yard line. Timmy said that he is "honored" to have the chance to come back and sing time and time again for the Eagles.
Shouldn't it be the other way around?