It was 9 a.m. when Rod and Cody Vancil left their Richland, Wash., home last Sunday and set out for Foxboro, Mass.
As Patriots fans in Seahawks country, it’s not often the father and son have a chance to see their favorite NFL team in person, so a cross-country road trip to watch a training camp practice in New England made it to the top of their summer bucket list.
The Vancils had something to celebrate, too. Earlier this year, Cody graduated from high school. He was born with Down’s Syndrome and spent the past four seasons as a manager and honorary captain of his school’s football team – the Hanford Falcons. This year, the return to classes and practices wasn’t looming. It was the perfect time to take the trip he and his dad had always dreamed of.
“I’ve been a Patriots fan since day one of Brady,” Rod said. “I’ve just always wanted to go out there. It was a dream of mine to go to Boston all my life anyway, so after [Cody] got out of school and graduated we made a deal that we’d go to the Northeast for a few weeks.”
Rod and Cody drove for 10 hours a day on Sunday and Monday, stopping through cities like Fargo, N.D., and Madison, Wisc., along the way. They’d paused to rest when Rod decided to check the Patriots website to find out what time the team would be practicing on the day they made it to Massachusetts.
Upon his search, he realized that the final public practice of the summer in Foxboro had taken place that very morning.
“I said, ‘Cody, we’re going to miss it,’” Rod explained. “He got really upset, actually, so I said, ‘Well, let me check.’ I knew they were playing Tennessee. I went online and saw they were having a combined practice [with the Titans] and my mind was made up. It was time to detour.”
The following day, the Vancils were headed to Nashville. They drove nearly 10 more hours before making it to the Music City, and by Thursday morning, they were standing on the sidelines at St. Thomas Sports Park, decked from head to toe in red, white and blue as the Patriots and Titans took the field for their second joint practice of the week.
“We slept 5 hours,” Rod said. “We got up at 6:00 and have been out here in the sun.”
He turned to his son and asked who he was looking forward to seeing most.
“Tom Brady,” Cody replied with a beaming smile.
They spent the day watching the team practice and snapping photos of their favorite players, but their excitement didn’t end there. After hearing the Vancils’ story, the Patriots gave Rod and Cody a pair of pregame field passes to that weekend’s preseason game.
Saturday afternoon, they were standing on the sidelines at Nissan Stadium. They watched player warmups from the best seats in the house before taking in the matchup with the Titans. Stephon Gilmore walked over to greet them and sign autographs. He even posed for a photo with Cody.
“I can't say enough how excited he has been,” Rod said of his son as he reflected on the past week of activities.
“It just makes me feel so good that am able to do this for Cody. That is the biggest thing.”