A young Pekka Rinne fan and youth hockey player at Ford Ice Center, Landon Cooper wanted nothing more than to attend a Nashville Predators game with a few of his friends and family for his seventh birthday. As planning began early in the fall, Landon’s mom, uncles, grandparents and two friends were invited to the game on Oct. 25, but there was one special guest who wasn’t going to be able to make it, Landon’s dad, Jayson.
Jayson Cooper, an OH-58D Scout Helicopter Pilot with the Tennessee Army Air National Guard serving under the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade and the 82nd Airborne Corps, had been serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan, for months and with a scheduled return of late in the year, this special birthday celebration was going to be one he had to miss.
“My wife mentioned that maybe I should try to find a way to surprise him with a picture or video or something,” Cooper said. “I went to the Preds website and sent an email to a generic address. Shortly after, I received an email from Brian Campbell [Preds Director of Game Presentation] and Snow Rose [Preds Community Relations Coordinator] about how they would love to help.”
After communicating with Campbell and Rose, a plan was hatched that in addition to the Preds customary megatron birthday and celebration greetings to the tune of the Buckwheat Boyz’ “Ice Cream and Cake,” Cooper would make a surprise megatron appearance via video.
“After a long flight, one of my good friends offered to help make the video,” Cooper said. “After about six takes, I finally got it right, meaning I wasn’t choking up trying to make it. It was a very emotional event, missing my son and trying to make the best birthday surprise.”
The night of the megatron birthday surprise, only a few friends and family knew what was coming up as the birthday messages began scrolling across the megatron during one of the first stoppages of play.
After a few greetings had been posted, Landon’s face appeared on the screen next to text wishing him a happy seventh birthday. After a quick wave, the thought was that the video board would move on to the next celebration, but instead, Cooper’s video message began to play.
“There were a lot of tears and one super happy seven year-old,” Cooper said. “Landon also played hockey on the ice that night and visited some players after the game. Needless to say, it was the best birthday ever and will be hard to top. Hopefully, I’ll be around for many others.”
One could argue that Oct. 25 was a night at Bridgestone Arena that, for Landon, could never be topped, but when he returned the next time to see the Preds play on Jan. 6, his Dad, who returned from Afghanistan on Dec. 20, was with him.
Back at Bridgestone Arena, and not on the megatron, Cooper sought out Campbell and Rose with a special gift as a thank you for helping make Landon’s seventh birthday one to remember. The gift was an American flag that had flown in Cooper’s aircraft as his unit provided overhead security for a ground unit while in Afghanistan.
“I was so overwhelmed by the generosity from Brian [Campbell], Snow [Rose] and the Predators organization, that I wanted to repay the favor,” Cooper said. “The biggest honor I could imagine was to fly an American flag for them, a symbol of patriotism and the freedoms we fight for.”
What started as a quick message to a generic email address on the Nashville Predators website quickly turned into one of the most memorable off-ice moments in Bridgestone Arena this season. For Landon, his family and the 17,218 people in attendance, the Preds game on Oct. 25 will long be remembered not for what happened on the ice, but for a particular 90-second break in the action.