Thanks to Memphis Tigers’ Tony Pollard, four men received free engagement rings from a Robert Irwin Jewelers promotion. Anyone who bought jewelry before the Memphis opener would get a full refund if the Tigers returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
Ayrika Whitney/USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee
Howard has a secret. And given the nature of his secret, I should tell you right up front that his name is not actually Howard.
But here’s the secret: In November, he’s going to ask his girlfriend to marry him.
Here’s the other part of the secret: He got the engagement ring free of charge.
“I spent $1,500 over my budget,” Howard said. “When Tony Pollard ran the kick back, I went absolutely nuts.”
So you can say it’s been a unexpectedly challenging start to the year for the Memphis football Tigers. But Howard is among a select group of Tigers fans who will tell you it’s worked out pretty well for them.
“Best season ever,” Steve Williams said.
“Couldn’t be happier,” Michael Rose said.
“I’m not even a Tiger fan, and I’m happy,” said, er, Alfred, which also happens to be a totally fake name.
Williams and Rose already have asked their girlfriends to marry them. So they didn’t mind giving out their real names. Howard and Alfred have yet to pop the question. So you can understand why they have to be incognito for now.
But all four men bought rings from Robert Irwin Jewelers when the store was running its kickoff promotion, which provided that anyone who bought jewelry before the Memphis opener would get a full refund if the Tigers returned a kickoff for a touchdown. So when Pollard returned the second-half kickoff 99 yards for a score, well, I’ll let them tell you themselves how that moment unfolded.
“I knew they were going to run the kickoff back,” Williams said. “I never had any doubt. When I heard the promotion, I said, ‘I’m going to go ahead and do this. I knew they would run it back.”
Williams — who works as a network engineer for a telephone company — had been planning to ask his girlfriend, Sheila, to marry him. He just hadn’t figured out when.
“I’m a big man of faith,” he said. “Before the game, I told myself that if it happened that night, I was going to ask her that weekend.”
Williams was actually at the game, watching the kickoff in person. You have never seen a man in a rain poncho jump so high.
“Friday morning, Sheila called me. She was yelling and screaming, saying, ‘I hope you bought something from that store!’ I’m like, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’”
But that Saturday, they had dinner in downtown Memphis. Then they took a walk through the lobby of the Peabody.
“I told her I needed to take a picture of her,” Williams said. “Then I said we needed to take one, together, near the fountain. I asked a guy who was standing nearby to take my phone and capture the moment on video.
“She was thrilled. It was perfect. I think she’s watched that video 500 times.”
And the Tigers?
“The way I look at it, this is a magical season,” Williams said. “I think they’re going to run the table from here.”
Rose already had asked his girlfriend, Molly, to marry him. But he hadn’t done anything about wedding bands.
“Then I heard the promotion about Tiger football and returning a kickoff,” he said. “I said, ‘Heck, they did it last year, right?’”
Rose and his girlfriend actually have season tickets to Memphis football. But that night, they decided to stay home.
“She wanted to go, but I was like, ‘If it’s on TV, there’s no way I can sit out there in that weather.’”
So they tried to watch the game at his house. He didn’t have power. Then they tried to watch the game at her house. She didn’t have power, either.
“We finally watched it at my parents’ house,” he said. “When it happened, I think we said, 10 times, did that just happen? I kept saying there had to be a flag. There had to be a flag. When there wasn’t a flag, we went crazy. We opened a bottle of wine and drank it in less than five minutes.”
One final note about this couple: Way back when the Tigers basketball team went to the national championship game, Molly spent $3,000 at Ashley Furniture when that store was offering refunds if the Tigers won the title.
“She came so close that time,” Rose said. “This seems only fair.”
It may pain you to hear this, but Alfred is an Ole Miss fan.
“I have no emotional ties to the Memphis Tigers,” he said. “But I went shopping for the ring with my mother and sister, and they told me at the store there’s this promotion, but the catch is you cannot return the ring to qualify for the deal.
“My mother said she wouldn’t do it, in case I had to return the ring. I said, ‘I’m not going to return the ring, but it’s never going to happen anyway.’”
Alfred didn’t stay up to watch the game. But the next morning, he woke up at 5:15 a.m and checked the highlights.
“The first one they showed was the kickoff return,” he said. “I’m telling you, I got out of bed so fast that my equilibrium was off. I still didn’t quite believe it, so when I got to work I called the store and they said it was true. I was at work by that point, so I couldn’t go streaking in the hallway like I wanted to, but needless to say, I was very fired up.”
Alfred still hasn’t decided when he’s going to ask his girlfriend to marry him.
“I have to ask her father first,” he said. “It’s killing me not to tell anyone. It’s a story that would spread like wildfire and I can’t have that. But for the last two weeks, I’ve been walking around with a big smile on my face.”
Shopping for an engagement ring isn’t easy.
“It seems like everybody knows somebody that you should buy it from,” Howard said. “I just randomly stopped at Robert Irwin that Monday and found a ring that I loved that was about $1,500 over my budget.
“I left, thinking about it, and went to another jeweler, and in that two-minute drive I heard about the promo on the radio. I thought, ‘That can’t be right.’ I thought I’d misheard it. But it was getting close to their cutoff time, so I went back and said, ‘Did I hear that right on the radio?’ When they said I did, I literally took a risk by buying a ring that was $1,500 over my budget. That’s all I could think about that Thursday.”
The game started. Howard watched it unfold on the television. And I would tell you more about the night except his girlfriend might recognize some of the details.
“When it happened, I totally freaked,” Howard said. “I was jumping up and down, screaming. I called both my parents. I was literally doing cartwheels down my street.”
Howard went to Robert Irwin the next morning, just to make sure.
“Channel 5 was there, asking if I would do an interview, but I couldn’t very well be on camera saying I had won an engagement ring, could I?”
Howard would actually like to take his girlfriend to the Robert Irwin refund party, but that won’t happen before he pops the question in November. So he’ll have to go to the refund party by himself.
“I cannot wait to give her the play-by-play,” he said. “It’s been a totally surreal experience. If we beat UCLA, this is my year. I can’t imagine two hurricanes to start the season, but over here I’m riding this tidal wave in.”