FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Check a dream off on Louie Gonzalez's bucket list as the New York Jets fan once pronounced legally dead had a whirlwind weekend, meeting players and celebrities and taking in the Jets' season opener. It was a weekend funded by fellow fans.
The story of Gonzalez is well known to many Jets fans. Born in Brooklyn, he moved to Florida shortly after being diagnosed with hydrocephalus - a rare condition that is life-threatening where fluid gets trapped in the brain. Gonzalez endured multiple surgeries, each time with a grim prognosis. At one point, he was legally declared dead and prior to other surgeries, his family was told that if he survived he would be in a permanent vegetative state and before another surgery, that he would never walk again.
Just a couple years ago, complications arose after he was making significant progress in dealing with hydrocephalus and Gonzalez had several strokes and went into a coma. It was here that his family thought he would never come back but like every previous setback and brush with death, he did.
Now a husband and a father, Gonzalez overcame each obstacle with an unwavering faith in God. He now talks and walks, playing football in the front yard with his sons and he is actively involved in his church's drama ministry.
Despite being a Jets fan for life, Gonzalez never saw his team play at MetLife Stadium, which opened in 2010. Fans heard about his story and his personal triumphs over hydrocephalus and started the "Team Louie" movement to raise funds for him.
The result? Seven thousand dollars raised and Gonzalez was able to see the Jets' 31-10 win this past weekend at the Meadowlands. All expenses were paid for solely by the generosity of fans through a website that was created and linebacker Demario Davis chipped in for a parking pass and sideline passes for Gonzalez's whole family.
The weekend included everything from his children being able to visit the cockpit and meet the pilot on their flight to New Jersey (their flight attendant turned out to be a Jets fan and now owns a 'Team Louie' bracelet) to a trip to Times Square with his family, and finally the game on Sunday. Upon arrival in New Jersey, Gonzalez was met by Jason Koeppel, who helped create the "Team Louie" website. On Friday they went to the stadium and then the team's practice facility.
It was there that they met general manager Mike Maccagnan, who gave Gonzalez a hug upon arrival as well as team president Neil Glat, who was instrumental in arranging for the tour of the facility as well as a special surprise.
Not only did he make it into the locker room and the team's meeting area, he also received from Glat an official game coin.
"Mr. Glat game me the Jets coin for the coin toss," Gonzalez told Metro. "Only two were made: One for the game and a second one for 'Team Louie'."
Saturday he had a "Team Louie" kickoff event at Redd's Restaurant & Bar in Carlstadt. Showing up was Ed Anzalone, also known as Fireman Ed, someone Gonzalez said "has inspired me since I was a kid."
Anzalone brought with him a fireman's helmet made specially for "Team Louie" and had Gonzalez lead the "J-E-T-S" chant. Many of the fans in attendance that evening had contributed to the cause to bring Gonzalez up for the weekend.
On the sidelines on Sunday before the Jets beat the Browns, Gonzalez met actor Ray Romano as well as former Jets linebacker Shaun Ellis and fullback Tony Richardson.
"Meeting Tony was great ," Gonzalez said. "He is such a great guy and I had a long conversation with him. Since giving him my 'Team Louie' bracelet months ago he has never taken it off."
Gonzalez also ran into Maccagnan on the sidelines and got another hug. The Jets general manager was wearing his 'Team Louie' bracelet at the game.