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San Diego’s NFL superfan, who has traveled to 565 games, donates wheelchair to Pro Football Hall of Fame

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Amongst the various historic artifacts on the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, are Jim Thorpe’s 1911 Carlisle Indian School sweater, two game balls from the very first Super Bowl in 1967 and the late Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton’s team jersey.

On Monday, San Diego NFL superfan Brian Gushue’s travel-worn wheelchair joined their august company.

The 57-year-old Clairemont resident, who was born with a light case of cerebral palsy, used the Eighties-era wheelchair to attend lots of of NFL football games everywhere in the country.

On Nov. 6, 2017, Gushue achieved his epic, 40-year quest to attend 500 NFL games played on natural grass football fields. He chronicled his travels in his 2021 autobiography: “The Grass is At all times Greener: One Football Fan’s Improbable Quest to attend 500 NFL Games.”

Within the years since, Gushue has continued traveling to games across the country — he’ll see game No. 566 on Thursday in Phoenix and 567 on Sunday in Las Vegas — but his wheelchair’s traveling days are over. On Monday, after one last game together on the Browns-Patriots match-up in Cleveland the day before, Gushue donated his wheelchair to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jason Aikens, left, curator for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, accepts football tickets and a wheelchair from Brian Gushue, an NFL superfan from San Diego, on Monday, Oct. 17. Despite his disability from cerebral palsy, Gushue has attended greater than 560 NFL games across the country over time.

(Courtesy of Danelle Palm)

Jason Aikens, curator at the professional football museum, said he was very completely satisfied so as to add Gushue’s wheelchair to the hall of fame’s artifacts collection. Aikens said he periodically curates exhibits dedicated to NFL fans and he hopes to in the future put Gushue’s wheelchair and other items on display to have fun the big selection of fans — including those with disabilities — who love the game. An identical artifact within the museum’s collection is a trophy from the Goodyear Silents, a semi-pro football team made up of deaf athletes who played from 1915 to 1927.

“Brian has an awesome and interesting story and we’ve never had a wheelchair donated to our collection before,” Aikens said on Tuesday. “We thought this could be an awesome approach to represent a number of the fans which have special needs who attend football games. We would like to make sure that everyone seems to be represented.”

In his book, Gushue wrote that his parents at all times encouraged him to steer an lively and independent lifestyle, despite his disability, in order a young boy he played street football with the youngsters in his neighborhood. Gushue at all times played quarterback — like his lifelong idol, Miami Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese — because even when he couldn’t run thoroughly he could at all times throw a superb spiral. As a young man, Gushue enjoyed attending baseball and football games — his very first NFL game was a San Diego Chargers home game on Dec. 4, 1977 — but over time his passion became focused solely on the gridiron.

“After I see these NFL games in person, they remind me of all those wonderful times as a child,” Gushue said. “Football to me was an access point. It was something that I used to be lucky enough to play despite my disability. It was an ice-breaker for me in twiddling with neighborhood kids and wonderful for my self-esteem on the whole. And after I see NFL football, I see the perfect of the perfect.”

Gushue said he restricts his game-going to the 16 NFL stadiums with natural grass because: “I just like the look, feel and smell of grass. After I see artificial turf I feel like I’m a carpet, not a playing field.” He has supported his football-going habit in a lot of ways. Before he retired from his profession as a newspaper copy editor in 2012, Gushue paid for his travels together with his paychecks. Since then, he has creatively relied on revolving credit, low-priced Southwest Airlines fares and upper-deck stadium seating, and by selling a few of his seasons tickets for NFL games that he doesn’t plan to attend.

Brian Gushue of San Diego uses a wheelchair for the very first time at a Chargers-Bears football game in 1996.

Brian Gushue of San Diego uses a wheelchair for the very first time at a Chargers-Bears football game in Chicago on Dec. 14, 1996.

(Courtesy of Brian Gushue)

Sometime within the mid-Eighties, one among Gushue’s friends who was a paraplegic named Wes Johnson lent him the wheelchair, a no-frills, hand-propelled Stainless Medical Supplies model. Johnson never asked for it back.

Gushue said he normally attended games using forearm crutches, but he found that using the wheelchair at games — the primary time was on Dec. 14, 1996, a Bears-Chargers game in Chicago — was far less taxing physically, so it became his preferred mode of game travel. And after the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, stadiums began constructing raised platforms for wheelchair users, so Gushue and others could see over other fans heads, even after they were standing up or walking by.

Although the wheelchair served Gushue well over the many years, there have been a couple of mishaps.

In 2005, he and a friend were leaving a game in Green Bay, Wis., and so they forgot to load the wheelchair into their vehicle and drove off without it. After they returned to the stadium parking zone to retrieve it later, they learned some fellow game-goers had commandeered it to roll away an inebriated friend. Eventually, a city cop recovered the wayward chair. It was on one other trip to a game in Denver in 2019 that the wheelchair was damaged almost beyond repair during its air transit from San Diego.

“That got me considering that this chair is admittedly worthwhile to me and necessary to football history,” Gushue said. “I noticed I don’t wish to use it until it falls apart, so how about if I offer it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame?”

Gushue has been an admirer of the museum since his first visit it in 1990 to attend Griese’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony. And after attending his five hundredth game, Gushue donated all of his paper football tickets to the museum in 2018. On Monday, Gushue donated a pair dozen more tickets to the museum that he has acquired since then. Aikens said he appreciates the donation of old football tickets because a lot of the NFL teams have now transitioned to digital tickets.

Although Aikens can’t guarantee when Gushue’s wheelchair and tickets could have their very own display, Gushue said he’s content knowing this donations at the moment are secure on hallowed ground.

“I’m thrilled to know they’re being stored there, that this repository of football history has items that I once possessed,” he said.

And what comes next? Gushue has a latest wheelchair that he’ll break on this week on the trip to the Cardinals game together with his girlfriend, Danelle Palm.

He’s also well under way on his next football quest. He desires to see 25 games by the entire NFL’s 32 teams. He figures it could take him about 10 years to attain this goal.

Once that quest is fulfilled Gushue said he’ll write his second book, “100 quarters,” representing the variety of timed quarters in 25 games. Then he’ll retire from the records game.

“I feel I’ll have earned the appropriate by then to only be a brilliant casual fan,” he said.

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