The Cleveland Browns breaking their 18-year playoff drought was a dream come true for many, many Browns fans, but it was even more special for Tom Seipel.
Siepel, a lifelong Browns fans, is terminally ill with kidney cancer and is currently in hospice care. And last Sunday he got to see the Browns clinch a playoff berth in person, fulfilling a final wish he never dreamed would come true. To make it happen, the Browns fan community rallied around him, and they even got a little help from quarterback Baker Mayfield and his wife, Emily.
It started as a Reddit post
Browns fans first became aware of Siepel and his declining health in December when he posted on the Browns’ subreddit. He told the Akron Beacon Journal that he intended the post to be a farewell to his fellow Browns fans, writing that he knew that he didn’t have much time left, but he wished he could see team clinch a playoff spot in person.
I don't even know why I made the post to begin with when I look back," Siepel told the Akron Beacon Journal in a phone interview on Monday. "I wanted to say thank you to the great fans. That forum has been such an informative part of my life when it comes to sports that I kind of wanted to say thanks, but at the same time I just got put into hospice. I was bummed out, so I'm sure a part of it was just wanting to hear someone say, 'Get well buddy.'
“I never thought this would turn into anything."
It turned into quite a thing, because fans on the subreddit sprung into action. Rawley Davis, the host of the Dawgs of War podcast, saw Siepel’s post and managed to get an email to Emily Mayfield. She read up on Siepel’s story and told her husband about it. Baker recorded an inspirational message for Siepel, who posted it on his Instagram account.
Game day of a lifetime
The video message was just the start. Local Cleveland-area business owner Brian Szabo heard about Siepel and offered him four tickets to the Browns’ possible Week 17 clincher against the Pittsburgh Steelers. So Davis and his co-host Kevin Tuleta set up a GoFundMe to pay for Siepel and his father to fly from their home in Savannah, Georgia to Cleveland. It would be their first game since Siepel was first diagnosed with cancer two years ago.
All of that was already amazing (the GoFundMe raised over $24,000), but Emily took it one step further. When Siepel told her that he was planning on coming to the game, she offered him 10 seats in her personal suite.
“She is the sweetest thing, so personable,” Seipel told the Akron Beacon Journal. “She was just amazing. The Mayfield name, I knew that Baker was awesome, and I always loved listening to him. But obviously she is not as available to the media since he's the player. She definitely is just as amazing as he is.”
On game day, Siepel and his father got to meet up with the guys from the Dawgs of War podcast and watch the Browns clinch their first playoff berth since 2002. When the game was over, he got to meet both Emily and Baker in person outside the stadium. They gave him a ride home so he wouldn’t have to wait for an Uber to pick him up.
“That's the class act that he is,” Seipel said. “Baker is every bit of swagger, Mr. Dangerous. He's got that cool, edgy attitude, but at the same time he has the biggest heart in the world.”
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