That time Jackson got a high five from Peyton Manning

It was a beautiful day for college football. Jackson and I were on campus to volunteer at the UKirk house (the Presbyterian Campus Ministry where I serve on the board of directors). We intended to skip over to Peyton Manning Pass, the road that leads directly to Neyland Stadium, to participate in the Vol Walk. We’ve done this several times before. Jackson loves to see the football players, and I love the Pride of the Southland Band. It’s win-win.

However, on Saturday, the Vol Walk seemed extra packed. Sure, it was the Tennessee-Georgia game day, and that’s a big rivalry. But, wow. It was crowded.

The crowd is hard to manage as a tall person, but it is painfully challenging for an 11-year-old. Fortunately, after locating an older woman who I hoped was a grandmother, and therefore understanding, I tapped her on the shoulder and asked if Jackson could stand next to her as the football team walked by. She smiled and said yes and took Jackson into her care. I stood several rows of people behind them. I didn’t need the front row experience, but I wanted it for my son.

Soon the band was playing Rocky Top, and we all looked up the street awaiting the team’s walk towards Neyland. There was yelling and whistling, and the crowd grew with excitement. The Volunteer mascot whooshed by, which meant the team was next.

But the team wasn’t next, at least not yet.

I saw Phillip Fulmer first and Peyton Manning second, and then my heart jumped into my throat because Jackson was about to get a high-five from the Greatest Of All Time.

I wish I could post a photo of the moment when the high-five occurred, but I was wedged behind a tall man who was working on getting his own high-five, so I only caught the second before and the moment after.

If you look directly above the iPhone, you’ll see Jackson’s little hand. Right above him is Peyton Manning. Jackson was next in line.

In a split second, it was over.

The football team was right behind him, so Jackson went on to high-five every player he could.

When the Vol Walk was over, Jackson and I scurried out of the crowd to fully assess WHAT JUST HAPPENED.

“Did Peyton Manning give you a high-five?”

“YES. OH, MY GOODNESS. I CAN’T BELIEVE IT.”

“I can’t believe it!”

“NO, I CAN’T BELIEVE IT EITHER.”

This went on several more times because we had no idea Peyton Manning was going to be there. Jackson had already met Phillip Fulmer, and he had a wonderful random run-in with Josh Dobbs (where hugs were exchanged), but a high-five from Peyton Manning was never on the radar. I quickly set him down on a stone wall and said, “We have to capture this moment.”

On the way back to the UKirk house I received a text from a friend saying Brett Favre was also on campus that day. Since I didn’t know about it beforehand, we missed an opportunity to meet him and get an autograph. I can’t even tell you how bummed I was about that.

And yet, the feeling of disappointment didn’t linger because Jackson was flying high and the smile on his face was quite enough.

The Day Josh Dobbs hugged Jackson

The forecast for the Tennessee Vols Orange and White Game was not good. On Friday evening, my Weather Channel app showed 100 percent change of rain and thunderstorms. Chuck announced that he would not endure a thunderstorm, and Saturday morning, Jeremy announced the same thing. Jackson and I looked at each other during breakfast and decided we would risk it. With jackets and ponchos in hand, we set off for Neyland Stadium for Fan Day with our fingers crossed.

That finger crossing thing must have worked because not a single drop of rain fell from the sky. In fact, by the end of our seven hours in Knoxville, both Jackson and I were hot and sunburned. Furthermore, upon arriving on campus we saw a very small crowd of maybe thirty people standing around Quarterback Joshua Dobbs. Jackson and I lost our minds, found a parking spot, and ran straight to him.

It took about twenty minutes to have any sort of contact with him, but that’s primarily because I insisted Jackson and I not push our way through people. “We aren’t going to be rude,” I kept telling my son. “We will wait our turn.” Not everyone functioned that way, which was embarrassing, particularly for the adults who shoved kids aside (one child was in a wheelchair, for goodness sakes) for an autograph and selfie.

Knowing that Josh Dobbs wouldn’t stand there indefinitely, I leaned down to Jackson and whispered, “You just need to be bold and catch his attention with your voice. He can’t stand here much longer.”

Then, from the bottom of a crowd of people calling for autographs and photos, Jackson yells, “EXCUSE ME, MR. DOBBS, CAN I HAVE A HUG?”

The quarterback turned our way and said, “Sure, no problem.”

Hugging Josh Dobbs

Be still my heart, y’all. Jackson gave him a tight squeeze, said thank you, and then nearly exploded from excitement. If our Fan Day experience had ended right then, it still would’ve been worth it.


As expected, there was a lots of standing in line, which is hard for everyone but especially hard for kids. It’s especially hard for a kid whose mother was ill-prepared for three hours of standing and brought no snacks or drinks. Thankfully, a nice man behind us forfeited his program, so that gave Jackson reading material for a while.

Reading the program

By the time we got inside the stadium for Fan Day, Jackson and I were rejuvenated. There is something very cool about walking onto the checkerboard end zones and touching the grass where college football is played.

Jackson in Neyland

There was more standing to do inside the stadium, but this time it didn’t end with a photo or autograph. The line to meet Coach Jones was painfully long, and even though we were closer to the front (as opposed to closer to the back), we still didn’t get to meet him.

Waiting for Coach Jones

Just as tears welled in Jackson’s eyes, I spotted a group of cheerleaders. That put a huge smile on his face. (We all know how much Jackson likes cheerleaders.)

Jackson with Smokey and the Cheerleaders

It had been six hours since breakfast, so after this photo was taken we ran for the concession stand. With a wide view of the field and only an hour until the Orange and White Game was starting, we scarfed down junk food as if we’d not eaten in days.

Neyland Stadium

We also enjoyed watching Peyton Manning roam the field while the players warmed up. (Y’all know the stadium lost its mind when Peyton walked out. He’s Tennessee Royalty.)

Peyton comes to visit

We only stayed for the first quarter of the game because exhaustion had set in fully and the eight year old was fading. He said it had been one of the best days of his life, that he was glad to spend it with me, and that meeting Josh Dobbs was his favorite part. Jackson’s eyes glistened as he said these things, telling me that the sunburns and achy feet and hours of standing in line was worth it.

I always think it’s worth it when we get to see Smokey. 

Running the checkerboard