On Christmas Eve, 10-year-old Giovanni Hamilton of Williamsport, Pa., received an important call — not from the jolly man in red, but from some booming boys in green: the Philadelphia Eagles.
Over a video conference, members of the team, including Giovanni's hero, quarterback Carson Wentz, invited him to be their guest at the Eagles' New Year's Eve game against the Cowboys. Giovanni waited until he hung up the phone before sobbing tears of joy. His dream of seeing the Eagles play live was finally going to come true, said his mother, Shannon Algarin.
"I can't tell you how many times we've driven by the Linc and just wished," Algarin said. "But when you have a child with special needs, you don't have the extra money."
Giovanni suffers from Schwartz-Jampel syndrome, a genetic disorder his mother describes as "like having muscular dystrophy and dwarfism combined." Over his 10 short years of life Giovanni has had 10 surgeries — with more to come. Despite his pain, Giovanni chooses to be happy whenever he can, his mother said.
"He's taught us more than we could ever teach him," she said. "He's been through so much and he's got so many battles ahead of him, to be able to talk to one of his biggest heroes, Carson Wentz, has been a big booster."
On Sunday, Giovanni rode in a limo to the game at Lincoln Financial Field, stood on the sidelines, met the players, and then watched the game from the 34th row — all thanks to a dog from Philly he befriended online several years ago.
When Giovanni underwent a procedure in 2014 that required his jaw to be broken and lengthened, a friend suggested his family reach out online to Lindsay Condefer and her dog, Lentil (aka the Magic Bean).
Lentil, who has more than 135,000 followers on Facebook, is a French bulldog from Fishtown who was born with a cleft palate. Condefer, who runs Street Tails Animal Rescue, has had Lentil since he was four days old. Together, the duo raise awareness of craniofacial differences, especially in kids. The more than 300 members of Lentil's Kids Club receive birthday cards, pins, and bravery medals before their surgeries.
Condefer tries to do bigger gestures for the kids in Lentil's club, too, when she's able.
"I wait until I see something come along, a wish the Magic Bean can grant, and I try to do something special," she said.
When Giovanni posted on Facebook this fall about his dream to see the Eagles play live, Condefer saw a chance for Lentil to work his magic.
She said Eagles quarterback coach John DeFilippo and his wife, Kari, follow Lentil's Facebook page and have adopted a dog from Condefer's rescue. Condefer reached out to them to see "if they could help me make this Christmas miracle happen."
The DeFilippos didn't hesitate, securing two tickets to the game and sideline passes, Condefer said. Others offered to get the family a hotel room and a limo ride.
"It was an amazing collaboration of people with good hearts," Condefer said. "I'm far from being a sports fan and now I love the Eagles! They were incredible."
Algarin said her son, who was accompanied to the game by his stepfather, told her it was the best day of his life.
She said Giovanni understands that his physical difficulties prevent him from playing football. But he left the game with renewed confidence that he could still be a member of the team.