By Jeff Shearer
NEW ORLEANS - Tim Deckard says his son is still on cloud nine.
One day after a surprise visit from Cam Newton, and two days before heart surgery, Taylor Austin Deckard, a 10-year-old fifth grader from Phenix City, Alabama, remained at Egleston Hospital in Atlanta.
"At first, I don't think he knew what to do," said Tim. "I think it took a second for him to realize that it was actually happening and he wasn't just dreaming. Once he kind of moved past that point, he was definitely excited."
A video of Cam's meeting with the young Auburn fan, whose parents call Austin but who prefers to go by Taylor with everyone else, had been viewed more than 3 million times on Auburn Athletics' Facebook page.
In the video, Taylor, wearing a No. 2 Auburn jersey, can be seen jumping out of his hospital bed to share a lengthy hug with his famous visitor. On the Carolina Panthers' off day, Newton flew from Charlotte to Atlanta to bring hope to a hurting little boy suffering from advanced pulmonary hypertension.
"I know that he's a busy person," said Tim, Taylor's dad. "He probably gets a lot of requests like this. It's impossible to always answer all of them, I can only imagine. The situation that my son is in, and I'm sure there are others out there, I'm just grateful that he was able to make time to come do it. It meant more than words can really say."
Newton is not the first well-known Auburn football player to visit Taylor. Two weeks earlier, on December 13th, running back Kerryon Johnson paid him a visit.
"I hope I did a little to make his holiday better because I know he sure helped brighten my day," Johnson wrote on Instagram. Taylor's dad says Kerryon accomplished his goal.
"It was a surprise, too," Tim said. "We didn't tell him it was going to happen. My son is classmates with one of Kerryon's cousins. I didn't know that before all of this. When Kerryon came up, it was obviously a big deal. Taylor has several different jerseys and all kinds of Auburn gear. One of the jerseys he has is Kerryon's number. So that was kind of like icing on the cake, right there."
"Cam and Kerryon are the epitome of Auburn men," said Jay Jacobs, Auburn's Director of Athletics. "Auburn people believe in the human touch. It's who we are. It's inspiring to see Cam and Kerryon living out the Auburn Creed. We're all pulling for, and praying for, Taylor and the Deckard family."
"I'm a person that people obviously look at and they critique - in a positive way or a negative way," Newton told the Panthers' website. "But my job as a person is to always be a great example for those who are watching.
"I try to use my influence in a positive way. I was just lucky enough to be able to grant a person a wish."
Having been in the same hospital room with Taylor two weeks earlier, Johnson was not surprised that Newton's visit meant so much.
"If you go to his room, he's hooked up to all kinds of machines," Johnson said Wednesday, after visiting other pediatric patients in New Orleans. "But he jumped out of the bed. He jumped out of that bed without a care in the world and gave him a hug. Just to see him be happy two times now. They say he wasn't very happy when he first got there. How could he be? He's locked in a room all day long. He's 10 years old, he doesn't get to go out and play like he wants to. So that's hard for him to deal with.
"To see that he still has a smile on his face. He still finds the bright spots in every day. For me, I know when I saw him it was something special and I'm sure Cam felt the same way."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer