Jake Silver still wonders how he didn't flinch.
The then-16-year-old bone cancer patient in Massachusetts was lying still in a pre-surgery scan in July 2016. His sister called, crying.
"Zeke Elliott asked for your bracelets," Halle Silver told their mom Melissa Duca on the phone.
Halle, then 14, was shocked. Of all the Ohio State Buckeye football players she'd messaged on Instagram about her brother's illness, Elliott was the last one she expected to respond. She figured a freshman walk-on, maybe. But the Dallas Cowboys' first-round draft pick?
"As soon as I saw he responded," Halle said from AT&T Stadium on Sunday ahead of the Cowboys-Jaguars game, "I started bawling my eyes out."
So began a years-long friendship between Elliott and the Silvers -- a friendship for which Elliott has worn an orange "SILVER STRONG" bracelet every practice and game of his NFL career. A friendship culminating in four Silvers attending the Cowboys' 40-7 win over Jacksonville with tickets courtesy of Elliott, who also visited their hotel room Monday for a jersey swap and hour of conversation.
Jake Silver was beside himself sitting in the Section 202 seats before kickoff.
"Some stuff about this is fun," he said of the opportunities he's had while battling bone cancer. "But most of it's not."
In December, Silver didn't expect to be alive this month, much less attending his first Cowboys game 1,767 miles from home. He'd hoped to kick for Ohio State football, where his grandfather played on the 1968 Rose Bowl team. But when 2016 aches turned out to be more than just arthritis, his football career ended abruptly. His prognosis worsened last Christmas. Graduating high school in May 2018 looked unlikely.
"They didn't think I'd make it to graduation," Silver said. "The fact I actually made it to graduation is impressive by itself."
Following graduation in May, Silver headed to more chemotherapy and radiation in June. He was declared cancer free July 5.
He enrolled at Springfield College this fall.
Then two spots, one on each lung, popped up on a Sept. 25 scan. Silver needed to withdraw from college three weeks in, a decision he says "wasn't great timing." But at least he had a Dallas trip to look forward to.
The idea came this summer, Silver wondering if the same NFL player -- the same Pro Bowl running back -- who wore his orange band en route to the 2016 rushing title and always after, could spot him tickets. The two had Snapchatted and texted periodically since Dec. 2016, Silver sending predictions for Cowboys seasons. Elliott would ask for more bracelets each time his stash of plastic bands ran low from snapping in games.
He never stopped wearing the bracelet.
"Part of being a fan is they want to feel involved, like they're there" Elliott told SportsDay ahead of Dallas' playoff game vs. the Packers in 2017. "It's inspirational for him to see me out there having the year I am, wow, wearing something that's personal and close to him -- I feel like we kind of have a connection there.
"He feels like he's a part of it. He feels like he's there with me."
Monday, Silver was with Elliott.
Silver had asked Elliott via Snapchat in July: "Can you get me to a game?"
"Yeah," Elliott responded, "just pick one."
Silver picked the Jaguars, optimistic Elliott's rushing prowess would overpower the Jaguars' lockdown passing defense. They confirmed the tickets reservation in August and September. Elliott let them know Sunday he left four at will call.
Duca wondered if the family would even make it in the staidum.
"This was my whole joke," she said. "I'm like, I'm relying on two kids to make plans."
But Elliott came through, communicating with Halle and Jake yet again to coordinate tickets for them, Melissa and stepdad Tony. He came through again Monday, driving to their Sheraton hotel room near the stadium in Arlington to share stories of post-championship Ohio State classes and swap jerseys for one Jake wore before his diagnosis was official, in an hour-long visit. Halle took a zero on a chemistry quiz to accommodate the unexpected visit.
"I'd be proud of him if I were his mom," Duca said.
Jake knows his fight isn't over. But his doctors are trying to minimize restrictions, letting him fly to Dallas even with a blood clot and lung spots because they "want kids to live their lives."
"You make it sound like I'm dying," Jake told his mom from their seats, when she explained the leniency as such.
"Every kid with cancer is dying, technically, until they're cured," Melissa responded gently.
"We're all dying," noted Halle, wise beyond her 16 years.
Then they settled in to watch Elliott rush for 106 yards and a touchdown, the orange bracelet secure on his right wrist through each of the 24 carries.
Again, Silver could barely sit still.