SPECIAL REPORT: Local woman’s special tie to Sunday’s Big Game

Army SSG Andre Booker

HEPHZIBAH, Ga. (WJBF) – While many fans in the CSRA are looking forward to the Falcons return to the Super Bowl on Sunday, one local woman has a personal connection with the team. It’s a connection that transcends football.

On November 27th, 2016 the Falcons beat the Arizona Cardinals 38-to-19. Most fans remember it as the first of five wins in six games that launched Atlanta’s Super Bowl run. Shanette Booker of Hephzibah remembers something else.

“It was overwhelming,” Booker said. “It meant that my husband’s service and his sacrifice weren’t in vain.”

Shanette is a Gold Star Wife. Her husband, Army Staff Sergeant Andre Booker, served two tours in Afghanistan and another in Iraq. On August 19, 2011 while still serving in Operation Enduring Freedom, he lost his own personal battle with PTSD.

“I woke up to his passing and, it was hard, because there I am and I can’t help you,” Shanette recalls of that morning when she found her husband’s body. “All I can do is call 911 and by the time they got there he was gone. You’re sitting there trying to wrap your head around it. ‘What’s going on? What happened? What did I miss? And there was nothing that I could have done. I was there for doctors appointments. I was there when he had his night tremors. I was there.”

This season, five years after Andre’s death, Shanette was connected with the Falcons through T.A.P.S., short for Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. The Falcons were looking to honor fallen heroes as part of the NFL’s Salute To Service.

“They had them play for the fallen,” Booker said. “Each member of the team got to carry one of the fallen’s initials on their helmet. So they played for our heroes.”

Shanette’s player was linebacker Paul Worrilow. They first met the Saturday before the game at Falcons headquarters in Flowery Branch.

“He’s amazing,” Booker said of Worrilow. “Paul was, dare I say for a big football player, but he was a sweetheart. He was a great guy. He took the time to get to know about my son and then my husband and their relationship and it was just such an amazing special moment for me.”

On game day, Andre’s initials were on the back of Worrilow’s helmet. The Gold Star families were invited onto the field to wave the flag during the national anthem and each fallen hero was recognized during a video tribute at the Georgia Dome.

“I was like, ‘that’s his story! That’s him!’,” Booker remembers. “To see the Falcons, their owner, their players, their team all supporting him and all the other fallen heroes it was just like, ‘Wow, ya’ll aren’t forgotten’. I couldn’t have been more proud of him at that moment. It just blew my mind.”

On Sunday, Shanette will be watching when Worrilow and the Falcons take on New England in the Super Bowl. And she knows Andre will be watching too.

“I still miss him a lot when I wake up, but I know he’s there,” she said. “You wake up every morning and you try to find that normal. But once you lose your normal you don’t get it back. It’s still hard to wake up, but it’s not necessarily as hard because you’ve adjusted a little bit and you know that they’re still there and you can feel them.”

Ironically Andre Booker was a die-hard Patriots fan and, as a result, so is Shanette. So who will she be rooting for on Sunday? Click below for the answer:

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AUGUSTA (WJBF) – I am a lifelong Falcons fan. No bandwagon here.

For those who don’t know, I am one of a rare breed: native Atlantan. It is home. Some of my earliest sports memories are watching Steve Bartkowski, William Andrews and Billly “White Shoes” Johnson. Then it was Andre Rison and Deion Sanders, Jamal Anderson, the-quarterback-who-shall-not-be-named and now Matt, Julio and Devonta. Below are some pictures of me Falconing over the years:

I got my fandom from my Dad. He worked Sundays when I was a kid but was usually off by kickoff. So we would watch the games on TV. Unfortunately back in those days we weren’t the only ones NOT going to the games, and due to NFL rules the Falcons home games were usually blacked out in the Atlanta area. So we would unhook the cable, get on the roof of the house and point the antenna toward Greenville, South Carolina so we could get a grainy picture of our beloved Falcons.

My point is, I’ve been waiting for this week for my entire life. There have been many low points. In fact there have been many more disappointments than celebrations. That’s why this means so much to me. To us. This video released by the Falcons on Tuesday will give you some idea:

It gave me chills. When you’ve been through what we’ve been through you learn to appreciate it more. We’ve earned this as a fan base.

My love of the Falcons has been well known around the office for years. My desk may have been the first sign.

My desk at Television Park
My desk at Television Park

As a result, as soon as the Falcons advanced to the Super Bowl, management approached me about doing a Special Report on the subject. They gave me carte blanche to pursue any angle that came to mind. My brain was overloaded with the possibilities so I opened it up to my friends on my John Hart WJBF Facebook page. I received so many wonderful suggestions. Many of you have stories similar to my own, of frustration now turned to triumph. But one story stood out among the others, and it took this assignment in a direction that I did not see coming.

I hope you’ll join me Thursday, February 2nd on NewsChannel 6 at 6 as I tell the story of Shanette Booker and her unique connection to this year’s Falcons (and why she’s wearing the wrong hat in the picture below).

Shanette and Me

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