To call the past three months a wild ride for Bryant High School senior Ian Shuttleworth would be an understatement.
"Everything about it was incredible, and I can't even pick just one moment," Shuttleworth said about his favorite part of his four-day trip to New Orleans, the host city for the National Football League's Super Bowl 47.
"They say it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to go to a Super Bowl, but once you go, you definitely want to go back again. Hopefully I'll get to go back to another Super Bowl someday."
The trip to watch the San Francisco 49ers' lightning-quick quarterback Colin Kaepernick square off against future Hall of Famer Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis wasn't even planned until mid-December. Shuttleworth explained that in 2011 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and while in a hospital room a group of strangers walked in and shook his hand.
"I was in the hospital for my second round of chemotherapy and I had no idea who these people were that had came in, but they explained that they were representatives of the Make-A-Wish Foundation," Shuttleworth said. "They told me I was going to be granted a wish, and I was kind of confused.
"I though the wishes were just for kids that were really bad off, or even terminal. But they told me the wish is for any child that has a life-threatening illness."
Shuttleworth said he kept getting calls from Make-A-Wish, and one day they visited his home. They asked Shuttleworth to list three wishes, and the first thing out of his mouth was to go to a Super Bowl. The second wish was a trip to Hawaii, and he admits that today even he can't remember his third wish.
Shuttleworth was actually put on the list for Super Bowl 46 in 2012, which was held in Indianapolis, Ind., between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots. But he explained that Make-A-Wish takes only 12 kids and their families each year to the game. Since he was number 14 on the list, he just assumed that his wish to attend a Super Bowl was nothing more than a dream. But then in mid-December Shuttleworth was at a Make-A-Wish banquet where it was announced that he would be able to attend the Super Bowl game in New Orleans. He said it was also a hidden blessing that he went to the 2013 Super Bowl instead of the previous year because "it is a better city in my opinion, and I just felt much better this year."
"For two months I was just waiting and waiting and waiting," he said with a laugh about preparing for the game held on Feb. 3. "Then finally on a Thursday (Jan. 31) my family and I boarded a flight. When we arrived in New Orleans, Make-A-Wish had all these different plans set out for us. We took a tour of the (Mercedes-Benz) Superdome stadium; we got to go to pre-Super Bowl fan festival called the NFL Experience; we had a day for my family and me to experience New Orleans; and then Sunday was of course the game, which was wild."
Shuttleworth said his hotel was right in the middle of the famous French Quarter of New Orleans. He said every day was an adventure, from watching the array of unique street artists at Jackson Square to eating Beignets at Cafe Du Monde to everything else The Big Easy has to offer.
"I loved New Orleans," he said. "I loved the liveliness of it, and the people there were so nice to us
"A lot of hometown residents would come up and ask us if we were having a good time. That was really nice. Just being a block away from Bourbon Street put us in the center of everything."
The NFL Experience — an interactive theme park that includes everything from a variety of games and entertainment attractions to autograph sessions with former and current NFL players — was also a "wild ride" for Shuttleworth. He said he was honored to meet New Orleans Saints players Lance Moore and Jed Collins, but it was the players who passed him in the crowd that got him pumped up.
"I had hoped to meet some coaches or Drew Brees (Saints quarterback), but the NFL experience was crazy because you'd be walking around and suddenly there was a NFL player," Shuttleworth said. "One time (Atlanta Falcons receiver) Roddy White was beside me. (Cleveland Browns running back) Trent Richardson walked by me and I was about 10 feet away from Jamaal Charles (Kansas City Chiefs running back), and he's my favorite player."
He added, "Then all 12 of us Make A Wish Kids got to go up on the NFL Network's Total Access stage during a live broadcast. That was a great time."
And then there was the game. Shuttleworth and his family had seats on the 15th row from the field near the 25-yard line.
"All the action was right in front of me, including the Beyonce halftime show, which was crazy. Alicia Keys was right there in front of us for the national anthem. And the Sandy Hook Elementary students when they came out, that was a very touching moment. There wasn't a dry eye in the place. It gave me chills up and down my arms."
As for the game itself, Shuttleworth said the atmosphere inside the stadium cannot be fully experienced via a TV screen. He said a person has to be there to truly understand the electricity.
"TV doesn't do it justice on how crazy it is there, or how loud it is," Shuttleworth said. "It was a great game to be a part of, especially with that crazy second half comeback. We were on the 49ers side, and during that 17-point comeback in four minutes by the team, I've never been a part of something that was so loud and vibrant and crazy. It was amazing."
He also mentioned the fans' bewilderment during the infamous "lights out" portion of the game that caused a 30-minute delay in the third quarter. Shuttleworth's cell phone began continuously receiving text messages from friends asking him "what happened?"
"I just replied back, 'I don't know; you tell me. You can hear the TV commentators,'" he said with a laugh. "We just sat there and wondered why the lights went out. The TV made it look like it was pitch black in there, but it wasn't that dark. We could still see the field perfectly, but it was a little eerie because we never thought that would happen at the game."
After his return home — still beaming from his Super Bowl experience — on Wednesday, in front of his fellow Bryant High School students, Shuttleworth signed a National Letter of Intent to play on the offensive line for the Arkansas Tech University Wonder Boys football team.
He dreams of some day returning to a Super Bowl either as a player or as a fan. He said that someday he may "rub it in" to his grandchildren that he got to attend one of the arguably most entertaining Super Bowl games of all time.
"Other than the game, which of course was the top thing, all the things that were planned out for us by Make-A-Wish was incredible, and they treated us like royalty," Shuttleworth said. "That made us feel like we were part of one of the Super Bowl teams, because we got to go into the locker rooms and played catch on the field. Everything about it was incredible."