SANTA CLARA, Calif — Everything had lined up so perfectly for Trae Sieczko that she couldn’t believe her phone hadn’t rung by Monday morning.
The Panthers had made the Super Bowl to be played right near her home in Sunnyvale, Calif., and Super Bowl 50 Opening Night was being held in nearby San Jose. She had already gotten traction on her story by emailing Frank Somerville, a reporter for the local FOX affiliate KTVU, who then posted about her on Facebook.
It just had to happen for Trae. She had to get the Panthers jersey to Cam Newton.
A little more than two years ago, shortly after her son Scot had called her to tell her his cancer had returned "with a vengeance," Trae had suggested two things: Form a nonprofit organization for families dealing with childhood cancer (TeamScot.org is up and running) and come up with a short bucket list to finish while there was still time:
• Coordinate a big family get-together. Check.
• Visit the penguins — Scot’s favorite animal — at the San Francisco Zoo. Check. (He even got to pick which one would be named Rupert after local billionaire and zoo donor Rupert H. Johnson Jr.)
• Propose to his girlfriend in front of the frog exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Ribbit. Check.
Scot Sieczko loved watching Cam Newton play football before cancer took him at age 22, and Newton came through for Sieczko’s family in a big way during Super Bowl week.
• Get a Panthers jersey signed by Newton, Scot’s favorite player since he saw Newton play at Auburn in a style that reminded him of the quarterback he loved growing up — Randall Cunningham.
In a family of 49ers fans who don’t take kindly to relatives who root for other teams, Scot got away with being a fan of a team on the opposite coast.
"He loved watching him, and just the person he is. He loved everything he does for kids, and how he’s him no matter what anybody says about him or throws at him," Trae told FOX Sports by phone on Wednesday. "It’s all parallel with Scot’s attitude. Nobody could tell him anything. He was going to be him, no matter what."
Getting Newton to sign the jersey was one of two remaining items on the list Scot was unable to complete before passing away at age 22 on Sept. 28, 2014. He had fought through 54 chemo treatments and a 20-day stretch of daily radiation. In his last few years, he had connected with Trae, who was living in Indianapolis while Scot was with his father in California, via his passion for sports and the Panthers.
Trae would do anything to check this item off the list. The list stated she would have to fly to Charlotte to get it done, though getting it signed while Newton and the Panthers were in California would more than qualify.
Trae’s phone finally rang on Monday afternoon. It was 49ers vice president of communications Bob Lange.
Somerville’s sharing Trae’s story had helped it reach Santa Clara mayor Jamie Matthews, who then contacted Niners CEO Jed York. Lange connected with the Panthers’ public-relations staff, who shared the story with Newton. They all hatched a plan for Trae to attend Super Bowl Opening Night, where she would not only get the jersey signed but also meet her late son’s hero.
With her brother Adrian, nephew Aidan and son Malik with her, Trae walked the floor of the SAP Center, "in awe" of being so close to the Broncos and Panthers players.
One player she couldn’t get near enough to hear was the one she came to meet.
"There was way too many media people," she said. "It was so loud on the floor. I was trying to hear him but I couldn’t hear anything."
That problem was solved after Newton answered questions for nearly an hour. He walked off the podium and immediately found Trae.
I thanked him for what he was doing for my son, and I told him to please win the Super Bowl Sunday for Scot. He said he will do his best.
"It went great. He’s the person I see on TV with the big smile, just very nice and very tall because I’m really short," Trae said with a laugh, adding: "I can’t remember everything. I know he said hello, and I thanked him for what he was doing for my son, and I told him to please win the Super Bowl Sunday for Scot. He said he will do his best."
Trae got a bonus gift from Newton — a signed Panthers jersey with the Super Bowl 50 logo for her. A black one, just like the Panthers will wear on Sunday.
"It must be the ones they wear in the games because it has elastic around the bottom and around the sleeves," she said. "They don’t sell them in the store."
Everyone in the family wanted to touch Scot’s jersey when Trae returned with it Monday night. On Sunday, she will rest it near an urn with Scot’s ashes, along with Scot’s shoes and beanie.
"He’ll be watching," Trae said. "He’s probably down the street helping Cam out right now."