When tickets for the Eagles' NFC championship game sold out in minutes, diehard fan Chris Serle gave up any hope of seeing his team battle the Vikings for a chance to go to the Super Bowl.
A friend who knew how much the retired Navy Seal and Purple Heart recipient wanted to see the game stepped in to help. In less than 24 hours, a GoFundMe page to "Get this HERO to the Eagles game!" raised more than enough for two tickets to upper-level seats at Lincoln Financial Field for Serle and his wife, Heather.
Serle, 32, who grew up in Media, Delaware County, was seriously injured in 2012 while deployed to Afghanistan. He permanently lost vision in his left eye when a friend he was walking with, Bo Reichenbach, stepped on an IED. Reichenbach lost both legs.
Ashley Fish, who started the GoFundMe campaign, said donations poured in quickly to send Serle to Sunday's Eagles-Vikings game as his story spread. Fish, who worked for Fox Sports and the NFL Network, tried unsuccessfully to get tickets for Serle on her own.
"Enjoy the game, God bless you," one donor wrote.
"So glad you'll be there. I will be there with my family cheering the Birds to victory. Thank you for your service. You are my hero! GO EAGLES!" another wrote.
Serle, who now lives in Virginia Beach, was ecstatic and grateful for the generosity of strangers. He made plans to travel to Philadelphia with his wife and infant son, Knox Lincoln (yes, he's named after Lincoln Financial Field). He paid about $1,500 for a pair of tickets.
But then the Eagles heard about his story and offered four field passes. Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery also left two tickets at the box office. Serle headed to the game with his wife, his brother, Mike, and a childhood classmate.
"All I wanted was an Eagles win. He literally has done everything he can for me," Serle said of Jeffrey. "He wanted to help as soon as he heard."
Before the game, they stopped by McGillin's Old Ale House, where they met Flyers great Eric Lindros, whose No. 88 jersey was just retired by the team.
"It still feels like we're all dreaming. It's hard to think it's still real," Serle said in an interview Sunday.
What a drastic turnaround from just a few days ago, when Serle thought he would have no choice but to watch the game from his sofa. The family had made a plan to use their phones and laptops to try to score game tickets online. A sleepless night just before they went on sale proved to be a premonition.
"They sold out in record time," Serle recalled.
It was a big letdown for the longtime Eagles fan. He attended his first Eagles game as a youngster and his last one in 2011, when then-Eagles quarterback Michael Vick provided tickets for Serle and two other veterans to attend a game. Serle named his black Labrador Jackson after former Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson.
"I was born and raised an Eagles fan," Serle said. "I definitely bleed green."
Because the Eagles provided free tickets for Sunday's game, Serle sold his, giving the proceeds to the GoFundMe campaign. In all, $2,576 in donations from 34 people was raised, Fish said.
"The love for the military and our country and the love of Eagles – I didn't expect any of it," Serle said Sunday.
The money will be donated to the Navy SEALs Fund, a nonprofit that provides assistance to current and retired SEALS. Serle joined the Navy in 2009 and was medically retired in 2015.
He said the fund was a lifesaver after his injury. He spent several days in a medically induced coma in Germany before he was transferred to Walter Reed Medical Center outside Washington. He regained sight that was temporarily lost in his right eye.
"I loved serving my country. I don't regret anything," he said. "It's just good to see people also care and respect what I did and what I and everyone else in the military does," he said.
Sunday night, with the Eagles heading into the locker room at halftime with a 24-7 lead, Serle's spirits were soaring.
"It's awesome. I think I'm losing my voice. I'm having a blast," Serle said from his end-zone seat.
"We saw the last touchdown, saw that field goal. I'm wearing [LeGarrette] Blount's jersey, and I got to watch his touchdown."