As we head into the rivalry-packed weekend leading up to the Super Bowl, a story of friendship and shared passion—and now, internal organs—between two opposing fans seems all too apropos.
Billy Welsh is a hardcore fan of the Philadelphia Eagles. John Gladwell, on the other hand, is avidly rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs. Welsh and Gladwell first met nearly 20 years ago while serving in the Marines.
They didn’t immediately hit it off. Gladwell, with years of experience under his belt and ready to come home, came across as “mean” to Welsh. Similarly, Gladwell wasn’t fond of the incoming recruit’s high energy.
Still, there was no bad blood between them. Though they didn’t actually speak to one another after going their separate ways, they did keep in touch through Facebook from time to time, as people are wont to do these days.
Then, in 2019, their friendship went beyond the occasional like or comment when Welsh wrote on Facebook, “Anyone got a spare kidney? Mine are junk.”
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Welsh was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder that often requires a transplant to prevent eventual kidney failure.
Without hesitation, Gladwell responded.
“John Gladwell is my hero,” Philadelphia Eagles fan Billy Welsh told TODAY about Gladwell, a Kansas City Chiefs fan and an old military friend who donated the kidney that saved his life. https://t.co/slydOwwrZi
— NBC 7 San Diego (@nbcsandiego) February 10, 2023
“I’m like, ‘What’s your blood type, I’ll check and verify mine,’” Gladwell told the Inquirer. “Two hours of looking through medical records, I finally found it. I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m a match…let’s do what we have to do to get this started.’”
Two decades apart were followed by a 1,000-mile plane ride and a 10-hour transplant surgery. For Gladwell, it was all a no-brainer. “You never leave your brother behind,” he told Hoda Kotb on TODAY. “Marines are a band of brothers. You don’t…don’t leave someone behind.”
He added: “I wasn’t going to let his son grow up without his dad being there for everything.” Welsh is a father to a son not much older than Gladwell’s grandson.
Gladwell and Welsh’s story eventually made its way to Eagles president Don Smolenski, who was so moved that he instantly reached out to Chiefs president Mark Donovan to arrange an expenses-paid trip for both men to Arizona so that they could sit side by side and watch their favorite teams play in the Super Bowl on Feb 12. Both Smolenksi and Donovan gave the guys a surprise video call to deliver the good news.
“The opportunity to bring these two guys together, their two teams playing on the biggest stage in sports, it’s very, very humbling and gratifying,” Smolenski told the Inquirer.
And though the two have formed an unbreakable bond, they are still frenemies when it comes to football. Welsh has even joked about being at odds with his life-saving kidney, saying, “Now there’s a battle going on in my body like, ‘Does my kidney not want to work, because if the Eagles win, it’s just going to go on strike?'”
Sounds like whichever team takes home the trophy this year, these two have already won something priceless. Sometimes, total opposites end up being a perfect match.