Inside the Lions' practice facility, on the artificial turf, along the sideline, Chandler McBride sat in his wheelchair, watching the team go through a pregame walk-through Saturday morning in Allen Park.
"It was unbelievable" Chandler said.
Chandler, 18, loves football, but he couldn't play this year because he is paralyzed from the chest down after suffering a broken neck in a swimming accident in the summer.
One thing you should know from the start: Chandler refuses to say that he is a quadriplegic; and he refuses to say he will never play again; that he will never run again because he refuses to think that way. He's a football player. He won't quit. He is just sidelined right now. Someday, maybe, there will be a medical advance and the feeling will come back. You never know.
So Chandler sat there, watching intently, amazed how an NFL walk-through was so similar to the ones that he did while playing his junior year at Three Rivers High School.
And then, everybody stopped and Lions coach Jim Schwartz screamed: "Chandler! Chandler!"
The adrenaline started to flow. "I about stood up but, naturally, couldn't," Chandler said. "I about crapped my pants."
Lions running back Mikel Leshoure came running across the field, went up to Chandler and pushed him across the field in the wheelchair. Right into the huddle.
"It was awesome," Chandler said. "It was unreal. It's been a long time since I've been in a football huddle."
Quarterback Matthew Stafford called the play. It was a simulated game situation -- fourth-and-goal -- and Chandler was getting the ball.
"I looked at the linemen and said, 'Guys, please block for me,' " Chandler said. " 'They got some big guys over there.' "
And the linemen cracked up.
They set the formation. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson to the right. A fullback in front. And Leshoure set up Chandler at halfback.
Stafford handed Chandler the ball, and he rolled into the end zone -- touchdown! -- and Chandler's heart was racing, and he couldn't stop smiling, and his mom, Monica McBride, was trying to stop shaking, while holding a camera.
The practice was done and the players gathered around Chandler and he broke them down: "Lions on three. One, two, three. Lions!"
Lions' PR guy 'like an angel'
Now, here comes the best part.
This was a pure, genuine moment. This was not a media stunt. In fact, there were no media at the practice. I only learned about it because Monica put photos on Facebook.
The whole thing was set up by Bill Keenist, the Lions' senior vice president of communications.
Keenist learned about Chandler during the summer and visited him at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor. Keenist was so moved by Chandler's story that he visited him several times and called constantly. He was moved and inspired by Chandler because he is so upbeat and positive. Keenist said that his life was "profoundly better" since he met Chandler and Monica.
"Bill is like an angel, but that makes him sound too feminine," Monica said. "He's amazing and so sincere."
The Free Press published a story about Chandler on Thanksgiving. Dozens of readers reached out to Monica and Chandler, sending them cards and handwritten notes, and donated about $5,000.
"It was so very, very, very nice," Monica said, choking up with emotion. "I want everybody to know that we read every single letter. I am so thankful."
A Lion on game day
After the practice Chandler posed for pictures with the players, toured the locker room and talked to Schwartz, Johnson, Stafford and kicker Jason Hanson. "It was real cool," Chandler said.
The Lions put Chandler and his family up in the team hotel Saturday night, and he stayed on the same floor as the players.
On Sunday, Chandler was on the field at Ford Field for warm-ups.
"I was so overwhelmed," his mother said. "The whole experience was unreal."
Contact Jeff Seidel: 313-223-4558 or email@example.com . Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.
Thanks to Prep Rally for the heads up.