SAVANNAH, Ga. — The Cleveland Browns gave their long-suffering fans something they had not experienced since the 2002 season -- a trip to the NFL playoffs. Sunday’s 24-22 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers was especially meaningful for a longtime fan battling kidney cancer. Thanks to Emily Mayfield and a slew of Dawg Pound fans, Tom Seipel got to see the Browns reach the postseason in person.
“Mind-blowing,” Seipel told Cox Media Group on Monday from Savannah, Georgia, where he is in hospice at his parents’ home. “I cried.”
“We sat in a suite Emily Mayfield gave us tickets to.”
Seipel, 39, was told by his doctor in early December that the cancer he has been fighting since 2018 was winning the battle. The doctor gave it to him straight: “You probably only have a few weeks left,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.
A father, husband and missionary who spent years working near Managua, Nicaragua, Seipel is from Columbus, Ohio, and is a loyal Browns fan. Seipel has been documenting his cancer fight on his YouTube channel, #Seipelstrong, so that his daughter, Mia, can remember him years from now, WKYC reported.
“I didn’t know how soon this cancer would be taking over and so I wanted her to have some videos you know to at least see Papa throughout this fight,” Seipel told the television station.
On Dec. 21, Seipel posted a message and a photo of himself on the Browns’ Subreddit with the caption, “Hey guys! I just wanted to say thanks for all of the fun memories, I’ll keep rooting with Eric Turner and Otto Graham.”
Two days later -- on his daughter’s sixth birthday -- he received a video message from Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield.
“Hey, Tom, Baker Mayfield here. Was just reading up on your story. You’re extremely inspirational, man, you’re a warrior,” Mayfield said in the video, which Seipel posted on his Instagram page. “Just want to say, keep fighting, appreciate your support and we’ll see what happens when we get into the playoffs. We’ll see if we can make those dreams come true, bud. We’ll be praying for you man, hang in there. Go Browns.”
“If I’m going to die freezing my butt off at FirstEnergy Stadium,” Seipel told The Plain Dealer, “what a way to go out.”
Emily Mayfield had other ideas, inviting Seipel and his father to sit in the Mayfields’ suite at the stadium. Seipel got to watch Baker Mayfield and the Browns earn their first trip to the playoffs since January 2003.
“What an adventure. That was the word,” Seipel said in a YouTube video he posted Monday when he returned to Savannah. “I told my wife, ‘You know, it’s not like it wasn’t the best day of my life, you know, because that was when I married you, or you know, when I had my daughter.
“But it was definitely the best adventure. So cool.”
Most of Seipel’s adventures have revolved around his missionary work. He attended Ohio State and began working at a church in Columbus, The Plain Dealer reported. He then spent a year in Korea teaching kindergartners English.
Moving to Murray, Kentucky, Seipel was working at a church in 2010 when the pastor told him about a mission trip to Nicaragua, the newspaper reported.
Seipel immersed himself in the culture of the school, according to his friend and fellow missionary, Mike Rumley-Wells of Wenatchee, Washington.
“Tom is a trained singer,” Rumley-Wells, who was a missionary in Nicaragua from 2011 to 2018, told Cox Media Group. “He directed the theater group at our school his last couple of years there and led the youth worship band.”
Seipel did more than that. He lived in a barrio in a poorer section of the town and met his future wife, Margarita.
“He saw the country from a perspective most didn’t,” Rumley-Wells said. “It’s a different world when you’re living there and not in a gated community. So he was really part of his barrio there.”
Seipel had met his wife through Margarita’s sister, who was a psychologist at the girls’ section of the missionary, The Plain Dealer reported. He got a Facebook request from her and they began talking on social media, and Seipel would translate her messages into English.
After scheduling a dinner date, they went to a Pizza Hut and spent three hours talking, the newspaper reported.
“It was that night I realized my Spanish is a lot better than I thought,” Seipel told The Plain Dealer.
Seipel married Margarita in 2013, and Mia Isabella was born the following year, the newspaper reported.
Rumley-Wells said Seipel had a “huge heart.”
“Loud laugh. Cheerful. Almost jolly. And a bit of a diva,” Rumley-Wells laughed.
Seipel said he learned about his cancer while he was in Nicaragua. After going through several treatments, he returned to the United States for good in 2018, moving in with his parents, WEWS reported.
Seipel continues to fight against cancer, but he got a wonderful memory in Cleveland.
“What an amazing weekend,” Seipel told Cox Media Group.
“Maybe dying is not the perfect timing that I’d like,” Seipel told WKYC. “But I’m going to go out with a bang and make sure I do some good with this.”