PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Eagles superfan Giovanni Hamilton, 13, made headlines this month when his "get well" video to injured Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott went viral on social media to the tune of 1.7 million views.
The message of empathy toward Prescott, after he suffered a compound fracture in his right leg in Week 5, from NFC East enemy territory spread far and wide and made its way to Prescott himself, who returned the good deed in kind.
"He DM'd me and he thanked me for the video," Giovanni said. "It meant a lot to me because, you know, I can kind of relate to what Dak is going through."
Through the kindness of Giovanni's gesture, his bright outlook amid numerous surgeries and his celebrity-packed podcast, he has built himself a giant green wave of support, and with that momentum, is attempting what was once thought impossible: to improve the reputation of Eagles fans.
Inspiring Eagles nation
He might be new to the national scene, but Giovanni has been making an impact on the Philadelphia sports world since his emotional encounter with quarterback Carson Wentz at Eagles training camp last summer. He has a rare condition called Schwartz-Jampel syndrome, which his mother, Shannon, likened to a combination of muscular dystrophy and dwarfism. Giovanni had his wish granted to meet Wentz through a foundation called Bianca's Kids. From his wheelchair in the meet-and-greet line, Giovanni broke down as he told Wentz: "You're my hero."
Special moment between Carson Wentz and Giovanni Hamilton, an 11 year old who has gone through 12 surgeries in his life. Wentz is his hero. pic.twitter.com/y4eeBwWHsL— Tim McManus (@Tim_McManus) July 26, 2019
He drew on Wentz's ability to come back from multiple season-ending injuries as he forged ahead with his own, more serious battle. Giovanni has had 15 surgeries since the age of 2. Those include:
Six surgeries to strip muscles from his eyelids, including two in which his eyebrows needed to be screwed into place. His condition causes his muscles to constantly flex. That constant flexing in his eyelids makes it hard for him to open his eyes, and without a proper line of vision he could go blind.
Two jaw distractions. With his mandible jaw not growing on its own, doctors had to break his jaw on each side and screw in metal lengthening devices. On each occasion, Shannon said, they had to turn the pins extending from his chin multiple times a day for weeks to grow his jaw, most recently by an inch, to avoid a tracheotomy. He was 6 years old the first time this procedure was done.
Hip reconstruction when he was 8 years old to fix a double-hip dislocation that kept him from walking for a year. Giovanni called this the most difficult part of his journey, as he was in a body cast from his armpits to his ankle for six weeks and then spent a year in physical therapy learning to walk again.
Football got him through it. Intent on becoming the head coach of the Eagles one day, Giovanni watched film and furiously scribbled his own play designs in a notebook to melt away the hours while recovering.
"You can see him going to town with it," Shannon said. "And even after this last surgery, he's like, 'Mom, can you help me make this video so I can talk football?' His eyes were swollen shut but he was like, 'I just want to talk football. I just want to not even think about it [surgery].' It's how he does. It's how he copes with it."
"It's all through the power of football," Giovanni added. "Football helps me through everything."
As Eagles fans began learning more about Giovanni, they quickly circled around him.
Since that meeting with Wentz, Eagles fans have been donating tickets so Giovanni can be part of the game-day experience. Before last year, the family had never been to a game at Lincoln Financial Field. They would always drive past the stadium and wish that someday they would make it inside. Last season, thanks to the Eagles community, they attended six games.
this is not who we are. and i don't understand why people talk about us like this. 🤷♂️— Giovanni - Carson Wentz Stan Acct (@realsjsgiovanni) October 18, 2020
this is eagles fans. lifting me up out of my chair to cheer the super bowl parade. we good people just passionate and that is why players love it in philly. #eagles fans are the best fans https://t.co/5xsjWxfJRs pic.twitter.com/WfE7PjwQK9
"Eagles fans are the best fans," Shannon said. "They understand the spot that we're in and they want to get him there because he loves it so much and we really, really appreciate it."
"The fact that Gio has been through all those surgeries, while still having to watch this team, and still puts a smile on his face every single day despite it all ... he's truly an inspiration," said Eric Emanuele, better known as EROCK, a longtime season-ticket holder and podcast host who is recognized as a leader in Eagles Nation. "I wish I was as strong as that kid. I couldn't think of a better representation of the Eagles' fan base."
Giovanni's sway goes beyond the fans. He has been racking up one big name after another on his podcast, Eagles Brawl, including a pair of Super Bowl champions, former Eagles defensive end Chris Long and former Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith, in recent weeks.
"You know all about overcoming obstacles and being tough," Long told him during his appearance, "and in that way I think you'd make a great pro football player. And let me tell you something: If you can be a coach, that's even better because they make a lot of money and they get to call the shots, and I think you'd be a terrific coach."
In seventh grade, Giovanni is balancing virtual schooling with pumping out multiple podcasts a week while traveling near and far for doctor's appointments. The most recent trip was for scans on his elbows, which showed that both of his elbows are dislocated and his left elbow's cartilage is frayed. He'll know the treatment plan soon and it will likely require yet another surgery, Shannon said.
But there's other work to be done. Giovanni plans to attend Temple University for sports management before eventually succeeding Doug Pederson, or whoever happens to be the Eagles coach at that time.
In the meantime, Giovanni is busy trying to change the reputation of Philadelphia's fan base, long cast as mean and unforgiving.
"A lot of people, when they picture Eagles fans, they picture people in green jerseys screaming at people. And you know, that could be right," he said. "At moments, it is right. But you know what? I want to change it. I care about the players and not what jersey they wear.
"I just want to change how people look at us as a fan base because I know that a lot of people say that Eagles fans are the worst. But I want to make us the best."