Joe Robbie Stadium was a major upgrade from the Orange Bowl with 75, orange and teal seats that enclosed the field.
When the stadium was built for the Dolphins, Joe Robbie insisted on a rectangular grandstand layout that was wider than needed for football, believing that baseball would one day come to Miami. The seats in the lower level on the north side of the stadium were retractable allowing the field to be configured for baseball. For 21 season the Marlins played at the stadium before moving into their own ballpark, Marlins Park, in Although multiple areas around the facility were remodeled over the years it became apparent once the Marlins left that in order to make the facility competitive with other NFL stadiums and to host future Super Bowls the stadium would need a complete overhaul.
In January , Dolphins owner Stephen Ross unveiled plans that dramatically changed the look and atmosphere of the stadium. She tells her friends Evan has been injured. She orders her food. She calls her sister in Syracuse, New York, telling her in a panicked voice that her boy is hurt, that something is terribly wrong. She cannot eat. Her friends drive her back to their house in Michigan. In the car Kelly is so scared she has trouble breathing.
From the front seat of the ambulance, Tom peers into the back at his son through a window. The driver is heading to a small hospital four miles from the football field. The white ambulance cruises along a highway, the driver obeying the speed limits, believing his patient is in no grave danger.
But then, horror: Tom sees, through the window, the Emergency Medical Technician performing chest compressions on Evan. His son has stopped breathing. The driver changes course: Evan needs to go to Morristown Memorial Hospital, some 40 minutes away, because it houses a trauma unit.
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The driver flips on the siren and mashes the accelerator. Minutes and miles pass. The ambulance finally stops in front of the emergency room at Morristown Memorial. Tom rushes out of the passenger seat, eyes wide with terror. Tom looks around but sees no medical personnel running out of the hospital to help his boy. The answer—the oh-my-God answer, the please-no-no-no answer—hits Tom at just past p.
ET, minutes after kickoff. Kelly steps out of the car at her friend's house and into the growing Michigan darkness. She's standing in the front lawn when her cellphone rings, the smell of freshly cut grass hanging in the cool air. One friend takes the phone from Kelly, who falls to the ground, wailing.
She rips up the grass and continues to yell, the screams audible for blocks. Another friend picks her up and carries her into the house. Kelly sits on a chair, unable to talk for 30 minutes, sobbing so hard that her friends quickly decide she is in no condition to fly home. She needs to be driven to her son immediately. In a private room at Morristown Memorial, Tom wraps his arms around his son.
Evan is on a gurney with a tube in his mouth and a brace around his neck. The time of death was around p.
The medical staff believes he suffered some sort of fatal brain injury. For over an hour, Tom won't let go of his boy. A family friend arrives, hugs Tom tightly, and tells him a dozen students and parents are in the waiting room and deeply concerned. Tom briefly leaves Evan's side and quietly tells everyone, "We lost Evan. Kelly sits in the backseat of the car, her head resting on the shoulder of her brother-in-law. Her eyes are blank. The countrysides of different states pass by—Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania. At one point she sees the first blush of the day's light ripple across the horizon and shoot across the farming fields of the Midwest.
Gazing out the window at the sunrise, Kelly is reminded that the world will carry on, even if her son won't—and even if she can't. Kelly is quiet in the backseat, with so many questions about Evan rolling through her mind: Did he suffer? Did he take one fatal hit? Was it a blow to the head? What caused him to die? Then she'd catch herself and think: What's it all matter? My boy is gone. That's all. The car pulls into her driveway 20 hours after kickoff. But now she can't bring herself to walk inside, not when her son isn't there.
Tom eventually approaches; husband and wife collapse into each other's arms, moaning together in pain.
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The entire football staff soon comes to the house. They form a line to hug and comfort Evan's parents. Tom can't stop blaming himself for his son's death, believing he could have done something to prevent it. More than students, teachers, coaches and community members gather at the football field the day after, unsure of where else to go. They hug, cry and share stories of Evan—stories of his love of drawing comic book heroes, stories of his silly high-pitched laughter, stories of how he was going to become a sportswriter, stories of his ability to drink more gallons of chocolate milk in a week than any other kid on the planet.
Friends also congregate in the school parking lot in space No. Within hours, this rectangle of asphalt is filled with flowers, balloons, candles, banners, written notes, cards and photos. One handwritten missive reads: "We love you, Evan. You are so beautiful.
Never, never will we forget you. Two police officers arrive to deliver seven boxes of Dunkin' Donuts and enough coffee for everyone. Coach Dubiel, who had sped to the hospital to be by Tom's side, shuffles onto the field, his eyes red. He embraces each of the players, whispering in their ears that he loves them. He says the same thing to non-football players. According to the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut, named after the former Vikings offensive tackle who died from heat stroke complications during a practice in , Evan was one of 13 U.
The line stretches the length of several football fields out of Faith Discovery Church. Young and old, wealthy and poor, black and white, even little kids from across the region who never knew Evan yet dressed in their football uniforms—they all come to say goodbye at the visitation five days after Evan has died. The family is the first to enter. Kelly still hasn't seen her son. Holding the hands of her husband and sister, she approaches the open casket. She loses all strength in her legs when she's two feet away.
She strokes his face, rubs his bearded chin. She wants to crawl in the casket with him and never let go.
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For the next nine hours, she clutches every last person in the line as they stream past Evan. One peewee football team kneels in front of the casket and says a quiet prayer. Even the 70 police officers and firefighters from Warren County assigned to work the visitation embrace Evan's mom. That night Kelly is so sore she can barely lift her arms.
The funeral is the next day. Evan is wearing a blue-and-green checkered shirt. Two days earlier, Tom had entered Evan's room to pick out the shirt—the last time Tom will walk into his boy's bedroom. In the nursing home in Michigan, a family friend streams the funeral on her iPhone and plays it for Evan's grandmother, who is unconscious. She dies three days later. The medical examiner calls with the news: Evan's spleen was abnormally large, so big that it was literally hanging out of his rib cage.
The spleen was lacerated; Evan bled to death within about 30 minutes of his final play on the football field.
The examiner explains that he had mononucleosis, a condition that often causes the spleen to swell. Most young people with mono don't have the energy to climb out of bed—this was the case for Kelly when she was struck with mono as a year-old—but Evan was virtually asymptomatic and ignored the symptoms he did experience. He didn't allow the fatigue or dehydration signaled by the strange-colored urine after school to keep him from the football field.
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Tom is shocked by the information; he assumed a head injury had taken his son. But the knowledge that there was nothing Tom could have done to prevent the sequence of events brings no relief to the father. His boy is still gone.
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