Posted on 29 January 2015.
Bainbridge Islander Pj LeDorze became a media darling with one inspired act—pulling off his Richard Sherman Seahawks jersey and handing it to a boy next to him at the end of the dramatic playoff game against the Green Bay Packers. It’s a story you’ve probably heard parts of, but here’s more—much.
LeDorze’s act of kindness was not random; on the contrary, it was quite specific. He was seated directly in front of the McElravy family at CenturyLink Field during the feverish game that by turns put Packers and Hawks fans into ecstasy and agony, ultimately sending Seattle’s team to Super Bowl XLIX. The McElravys, who live in Leavanworth, are unusual. Mom, Pam, and eldest son, Devan, 14, are Seahawks fans. But Dad, Tim, and younger son, Austin, 12, are Green Bay Packers fans from way back when Tim grew up in Wisconsin.
During the playoff game, LeDorze, 35, noticed his “upstairs” neighbors because an aggressive Seahawks fan was cursing at Tim and Austin for rooting for the Packers. Among other things, the rabid fan used the “f” word. Determined to show a better side of Seattle, LeDorze, a confident and formidable presence, told the mean guy to shut up and engaged the father and son in an ongoing friendly conversation about the game and about football in general, elevating the dialogue to something more than your side/my side, a perspective distinctly lacking today in American culture.
When the game ended with a Seattle win in overtime after a stunning turn of events late in what had looked like a Packers clinch, LeDorze turned to his new young friend Austin. “We fist-bumped and shared a bro hug. He was handling his loss better than I was handling my win. I just pulled off my jersey—I was wearing it over my jacket—and handed it to him,” said LeDorze.
LeDorze told me his gesture was “not a conscious decision” and that he had been impressed with Austin’s composed acceptance of his team’s loss and just spontaneously gave him his shirt in the midst of the excitement. I asked LeDorze what happened next. “The kid was floored. At first he wasn’t sure what to do. Then he gave a big smile of gratitude, and everyone got very emotional. His mom was crying, and his parents hugged me,” LeDorze said.
Pj LeDorze with Austin McElravy at the Seahawks game
Tim took a picture of LeDorze and his son with the jersey, but they didn’t exchange more than first names before the uproarious crowd quickly swept them apart.
LeDorze, a third-generation Bainbridge Islander who played defensive end and left tackle for Bainbridge High School, told me he never expected what happened next. Tim McElravy sent the photo and story to a reporter at King 5 News, and through social media “Pj” was tracked down by the following morning. A few Seattle media outlets covered the story, and so did NBC News.
But the story didn’t end there. Princess Cruise Lines contacted LeDorze with two offers. They gave him a ticket for their Seahawks cruise in June, a week-long Alaska excursion for hardcore fans, with Seahawks players aboard, trivia games, and other football-related events. The company also asked LeDorze to talk with people on camera at the Seahawks send-off parade on January 25. LeDorze said he got to joke around with fans and choose someone to give tickets to for the Seahawks cruise.
“I chose a great family. It was two young parents with a 13 or 14 month old. The boy was wearing a blue and green sweater knitted by his grandmother, and the father was wearing a similar Seahawks hat also knitted by her,” said LeDorze. “They were incredibly excited. They actually had been thinking about going on the cruise already. It was great to be able to give that gift. The people at the company are very Seattle. I enjoyed working with them. I’m most excited about the cruise. I’ve never been to Alaska.”
LeDorze’s decency, generosity, and good sportsmanship captured more than media attention. People from all over, including as far away as Cuba and Kyrzbekistan, contacted LeDorze to say how inspired they were by his gesture. “I haven’t had time yet, but I plan to answer every one,” he said. And when Seahawks star cornerback Richard Sherman heard the story after LeDorze did an on-air television segment, he promised to replace LeDorze’s gifted jersey with a new signed one, along with two signed Seahawks caps and a signed PlayStation 4 Madden NFL video game.
LeDorze invited me over to see his schwag. He plans to frame his signed jersey with an image of Sherman responding to the story on Facebook. This writer can attest to the fact that in his “man pad” LeDorze has plenty of unoccupied wall space to hang the jersey. He told me Sherman is his favorite player because he’s talented, confident, community-minded, and smart—a man looking ahead to his future who won’t “blow his money and burn out.”
LeDorze plans to give one of the hats to Austin’s Seahawks fan brother Devan McElravy, and the other hat will be a gift for LeDorze’s younger brothers, 9 and 11, to share. LeDorze said the signed video game will be something his brothers will have the opportunity to “pay forward” to someone of their choosing, just as he has done.
When I met LeDorze, his old friend Torgeir Troland had just flown in from Norway for the Super Bowl. The two met back in fifth grade at Ordway School on Bainbridge Island. I asked where they planned to watch the game, and LeDorze said he wasn’t sure which party they would end up at.
Photos courtesy of Tim McElravy and by Julie Hall.