In a span of 5 days we made Warrior Wishes come true in Green Bay, Nashville, Indianapolis & today we were honored to host Air Force Master SGT Jay Novak & Army SPC Scott Ballestra in Cleveland at the Browns game.
My dad took an overnight bus from Indy, while I got my first overnight bus experience this season from Chicago. We both arrived in Cleveland within a half hour of each other. It was perfect timing.
We had a few hours to kill before meeting up with Jay & Scott, so my dad & I set out on a little mission. We were told that Jay would love to meet John Gruden. Since Gruden works every Monday night game with ESPN, my dad & I wanted to try to set up a meeting between the two. Our first challenge was trying to find him. As we walked towards the stadium we stopped at the Westin to use the washroom & who do we see sitting at the lobby restaurant? John Gruden!
It was total luck, but I guess it was meant to be. We told Gruden we had a 20 year Air Force Veteran who wanted to meet him. Gruden said he would be honored to meet up with him in-between all his meetings if he had time. It wasn’t set in stone, but at least he knew we would be back by the hotel later to try.
While walking around the stadium killing time, my dad got a message from Scott telling us that he was unable to catch his flight from San Antonio & not going to make it to Cleveland in time for the game. Army SPC Scott Ballestra was medically retired earlier this week. He was flying home from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. We were really looking forward to meeting him and hosting him at the game to thank him for his service & sacrifices. We hope to get him to a future game.
For the next hour we sat waiting to meet up with Jay at his hotel, we reached out to every contact we had in Cleveland looking to find a deserving warrior to take Scott’s place.
Jay arrived in Cleveland at around 12:30pm with his father in law, best friend & his best friends parents. Jay’s best friend, David, nominated him & sponsored the Cleveland experience.
Once everyone was checked into the hotel we made our way back to the Westin in hopes of running into Gruden again. We hung around for about an hour & had a drink while getting to learn a little bit about Master SGT Novak. We had pretty much given up on seeing Gruden. We wanted to make sure we had enough time before the game to tour the Rock & Roll hall of fame & have dinner so we headed for the door. As we were walking out John Gruden was walking in! Perfect timing again!
John was genuinely excited to have the opportunity to meet Jay & sincerely appreciated him for his 20+ years of service. Jay thanked John for coming out to visit the troops in Iraq & they talked about the wicked sand storms & how hot it was in the desert. It was the perfect way to kickoff our day!
Now that we had completed the mini mission at hand we were focused on providing a once in a lifetime experience for Jay & his guests. We walked a few blocks to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and got to see some of Rock & Rolls most famous memorabilia.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is located on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, United States. It is dedicated to archiving the history of some of the best-known and most influential artists, producers, engineers and others who have, in some major way, influenced the music industry. You can literally spend the entire day listening to some of the greatest music of all time & browsing the 6 floors of exhibits.
After the tour we jumped in a cab to the Cleveland Chop and had a delicious dinner!
Cleveland Chop is Cleveland’s Favorite Steakhouse. They offer a premium experience at an affordable price. Situated in the Historic Warehouse District, they are just minutes away from downtown hotels, Quicken Loans Arena, Progressive Field, First Energy Stadium and the Convention Center.
The Cleveland Chop set us up in a private dining room, which gave us the opportunity to hear more about Master SGT Jay Novak & his service. He spent over 5 years of his 20 year military career on deployments. He is the type of guy who would give you the shirt off his back & was committed to serving our country! Jay is originally from the Cleveland area but now lives in Texas. This was his first Browns game ever at their new stadium. (See his full bio below)
The head Chef at the restaurant offered to take care of our meal to thank Jay for his service. The Chefs brother had also served in the military. He said our mission hits home & he just wanted to show his appreciation.
It had already been a day filled with memories and the game hadn’t even started! We stopped back at the hotel to bundle up & made our way over the First Energy Stadium. Jay got to sit in the front row!
It didn’t look good for the Browns early on as the Ravens jumped out to an early 17-3 lead. By halftime the Browns clawed their way back into the game and only trailed by 3 points.
My dad & I had to catch our bus so we said our goodbyes midway thru the 3rd quarter in order to get to the bus station in time. Jay, his father in law & friend remained glued to the action in the front row.
My dad & I watched the 4th quarter from the bus station. Austin Davis had come in to replace the injured Josh McCown at QB and managed to lead the Browns to a game tying touchdown with just minutes left in regulation. I got a text from Jay’s friend letting us know the stadium was going crazy! An interception just a few plays later gave the Browns great field position and an opportunity to kick a field goal to win the game!
Then the unthinkable happened. The field goal was blocked and with no time left on the clock the Ravens returned the blocked field goal to the end zone to win the game.
It was a crazy way to end a crazy game. I got a text after the game “Only in Cleveland.”
Despite the loss, it was a great day filled with new friends & unforgettable memories.
We would like to thank Dave from Advanced Physical Medicine Clinics for nominating Jay & for helping us make his Warrior Wish come true. We also want to thank John Gruden for taking the time to show your appreciation to Jay, Cleveland Chop for providing a delicious pregame meal & New Era for providing Browns Caps!
TOGETHER WE MAKE WARRIOR WISHES COME TRUE!
My dad & I will be back in Chicago later this morning to hang out with the one & only X-man. We will be back in action this Thursday making warrior Wishes come true in Detroit at our 33rd NFL game this season!
AIR FORCE MASTER SGT JAY NOVAK