Gary Rekstad, a huge NFL fan currently living in Boynton Beach, Florida, once got within a hair of the ultimate destination for a pigskin enthusiast: the Super Bowl.
It was in the 1970s, when both the NFL and its biggest game were rapidly growing in popularity. Rekstad and a couple of his business partners had an entire Super Bowl trip planned…and then it fell apart at the last minute. He has still never been.
Rekstad just recounted that story to his nephew, Bill Kallus, a couple months ago. Though neither he nor Kallus knew it that evening, his timing was perfect. Rekstad's story planted a seed in his nephew's mind, and thanks to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that seed burst into a fully-formed plan in January.
On Wednesday, January 12, Kallus received a call at his office from a Buccaneer representative who was eager to share some incredible news. Kallus had just been named the Grand Prize winner of the One Buc Club Super Bowl Contest, and as such he and the guest of his choice would soon be headed to Dallas.
The Grand Prize in the One Buc Club Super Bowl contest was as follows: Two tickets to Super Bowl XLV in Cowboys Stadium, round-trip airfare for two and hotel accommodations in Dallas for four nights. Essentially, it was the ultimate windfall for any diehard NFL fans – which certainly describes both Kallus and Rekstad – and so the Buccaneer rep calling with the good news probably expected some hooting and hollering on the other end of the line.
Kallus's reaction? Stunned silence.
Here's the thing: Kallus was not even aware that he had been in the Super Bowl Contest. Understandably, he had to fight off an initial bout of skepticism.
"It was really disbelief, because I had joined the One Buc Club not knowing there was an eligibility period for the Super Bowl [contest]," he recalled on Tuesday during a visit to the Buccaneers' headquarters. "I got the call one day and I said, 'Really? Did I really win a Super Bowl trip? You're kidding, right?'
"I told my co-workers around me, 'This can't be real. This cannot be real. Somebody just called me up and said I'd just won two tickets to the Super Bowl and I don't remember entering a contest!' I thought it was a scam."
In October, not long before Rekstad would share his Super Bowl near-miss story, Kallus signed up for the Buccaneers' One Buc Club on Buccaneers.com. He did so, he says, in order to "stay updated" on his favorite team (Kallus is a "reformed" Dolphins fan, the result of a childhood in Miami) and to be alerted to any team promotions. He found exactly what he was looking for, and to his eventual surprise, even more. He was unaware that merely signing up for the One Buc Club automatically made him eligible for a variety of lucrative contests.
Such as the Super Bowl contest. Fans could enter either by texting a specific number during Buccaneer game days or by being a member of the One Buc Club. Kallus, obviously, was a part of the latter group, and it was his name that was pulled in the days following the end of the Bucs' 2010 season. Once this was explained to him on the phone, Kallus realized his good fortune was no scam, though it still took a while to really sink in.
"It was just utter disbelief," he said. "It took about three or four days to set in and then I realized, 'Oh yeah, I'm going to the Super Bowl!' I have never been to the Super Bowl before. This was definitely on the Bucket List. I will be a happy man once I enter that amazing place."
Soon, it was Kallus' turn to deliver the good news. He was met with a similar reaction.
Remembering his uncle's story, Kallus called Rekstad and informed him of his sudden Super Bowl windfall, and the fact that the second ticket had Rekstad's name on it.
"He just told me this story a couple months ago," said Kallus. "So I just said, you know what, he's the guy that's got to go. He's who I have to take.
"He was speechless on the phone for about two minutes."
Kallus visited One Buccaneer Place, from which the One Buc Club gets its name, on Tuesday to receive his prize from General Manager Mark Dominik. He was also given a tour of the state-of-the-art facility, and he happily posed for pictures with the Buccaneers' own Lombardi Trophy and some of the other notable features in the facility's lobby.
And now Kallus and his uncle will be treated to a thrilling Super Bowl this coming Sunday. The pair will fly out on Thursday and stay in Dallas through Monday. The big game pits two teams with deep championship-game roots; the Pittsburgh Steelers have the most Super Bowl visits (seven) and victories (six) while the Green Bay Packers won the first two Super Bowls plus a third one in the 1990s. Nine combined Super Bowl victories is easily the most two Super Bowl opponents have ever brought into the big game.
Kallus, however, would have been fine with any matchup (and certainly would have been thrilled by another Super Bowl appearance for his Buccaneers). It's the entire Super Bowl experience – one his uncle got so tantalizingly close to three decades ago – that has piqued Kallus' NFL passion.
"I am extremely excited," he said. "After it finally set in, I started going on web sites and planning everything, saying, 'Okay, what's close to the hotel? Where can I go? Do I need to rent a car? How do I deal with parking?' I was just ecstatic."
Of course, the game itself will be the highlight of Kallus and Rekstad's stay in Texas. And Kallus has a prediction as to how that is going to turn out: "I think Green Bay's going to take this one. They've been looking great in the postseason here and I really think they're going to overwhelm Pittsburgh."
The world will be watching to see if he's right. Nephew and uncle will be there in person, all thanks to the One Buc Club. To join the One Buc Club and learn about more exciting contests and promotions, please click here.