Canaan Sandy of Cave City attended his first Arkansas Razorbacks football game when he was just 2 months old, and he has been a Hogs fan ever since.
He wears a Razorback shirt every day and goes to every Hogs game he can. The 31-year-old has been fascinated with the Razorbacks for a long time, and his mother, Ginger, said loving the Hogs runs in the family. She and her husband have always been Hogs fans.
“We took him to his first football game when he was 2 months old, and the reason that we took him, he was born with an intestinal blockage and a hole in his heart,” Ginger said. “He was too sick for us to just leave with somebody else.”
She said she decided if the game was too hard on him, they were going to leave.
“He did really well, but the next week he had open-heart surgery,” Ginger said. “I don’t ever remember him not being fascinated with the Hogs.”
His longtime dedication to the state’s beloved team has paid off. Just two weeks ago, he became a part of the ESPN Fan Hall of Fame.
The ESPN Fan Hall of Fame is an institution devoted to discovering, elevating and celebrating greatness in sports fandom, according to ESPN’s website.
Ginger said she saw an advertisement for the hall of fame and thought Canaan would be the perfect addition.
“We’d already entered him in the University of Arkansas homecoming superhero fan contest, and he won that,” she said. “That was in October, and then this came along. They were advertising that they were looking for the nation’s top-three sports fans.”
Ginger said she had to get pictures together and write an essay to submit to the contest.
“He eats, sleeps and breathes Hogs,” she said. “He would buy dirt if it said Razorbacks on it. He doesn’t think anything about us having to drive four hours each way to go to a game, and he has the ultimate [Razorbacks] collection.”
Every wall in Canaan’s room is covered in Razorback stickers, posters, pictures and fan memorabilia— his sheets even have the Hogs printed on them.
“Canaan sits and watches Sportscenter, just hoping they’ll mention the Hogs,” Ginger said. “If anyone ever trashes the Hogs, they’re on his bad list.”
Within two days of submitting the Hall of fame application, Ginger said, she found out her son was in the top 25 candidates for the Hall of Fame.
“When they notified us of that, [ESPN] told us we needed videos and photography, but they wanted professional stuff, stuff that would be worthy to make their commercials,” she said.
She found herself empty-handed when it came to professional photographs of her son. So she turned to the place where she and her son frequently visit: the University of Arkansas.
“We called the University of Arkansas, and they got right back to us. They said, ‘Can you come right now?’” Ginger said. “There was a basketball game that night, so we grabbed clothes to spend the night [in Fayetteville], and away we went.”
A four-hour drive from Cave City got them to The Hill, and officials with the university met Ginger and Canaan at the door to Bud Walton Arena.
“They had a cameraman who went with us the whole time, and we got to meet players, mascots and cheerleaders,” Ginger said. “They just took us under their wing. We just had a ball that night.”
The next day, Canaan and Ginger toured the football facilities.
“Canaan got to go into the dining room, the workout room and the locker room,” she said. “He met about a fourth of the team.”
Along with the football team, Canaan got to meet Bret Bielema, head coach for the Razorbacks football team.
“Everybody was so good to us,” Ginger said.
Once the photos and videos were submitted to ESPN, the network’s sportscasters picked the top 10 candidates out of the 25 finalists.
After Canaan made it to the top 10, it was up to his fans to get him into the ESPN Fan Hall of Fame.
Ginger said that along with Facebook event pages geared toward voting, the students at Cave City High School started each day by voting for Canaan.
“We would have never won this if it weren’t for the whole state pitching in,” she said. “I even heard from a couple of different countries.”
Canaan said he is ecstatic about getting into the hall of fame.
“I’m so excited,” he said.
He already has the 2014 football schedule memorized, and he has high hopes for next year’s season.
“Our team will get 14-0 next year,” Canaan said.
His mother said that when Canaan found out about his new “star status,” he couldn’t go to sleep that night.
“Someone asked me that night if he had come down off of his high, and I said, well he went off to bed chanting, ‘I’m famous, I’m famous!’” she said.
He’s made public appearances to thank everyone who voted him into the ESPN Fan Hall of Fame.
“We got to do a meet and greet at [Arkansas] Children’s Hospital,” Ginger said. “Canaan [has] spent most of his life in and out of Children’s Hospital.”
In spring 2014, Canaan will be formally inducted into the 2013 Fan Hall of Fame. His name will be engraved on a stadium chair on ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., campus.
Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.