Matt Porter had planned to go to the Bahamas. Beautiful sandy beaches, clear blue water and drinks with umbrellas—this is how he wanted to spend the $10,000 he won from a bet he placed in June for LSU quarterback Joe Burrow to win the Heisman Trophy. Two days after Burrow won the top individual prize in college football, Porter’s plans have changed. Instead of to some resort island in the Atlantic Ocean, a portion of his winnings are heading to, of all places, Alabama.
On Monday, Porter planned to donate more than $3,000 of his post-taxed winnings to a GoFundMe account connected to Colton Moore, a 9-year-old LSU fan living in Odenville, Alabama, who is stricken with spina bifida. The donation—$3,228 to be exact—will exceed by $1 the GoFundMe account’s goal of $15,000, to be used by the family as a down payment on a wheel chair accessible van. Moore’s story went somewhat viral in October when the LSU football program opened its doors to him and his parents so the child could meet his hero: LSU coach Ed Orgeron. Two months later, he’s got another hero. “He seems like the sweetest kid in the world, and he lives smack dab in the middle of Alabama and came to find love for LSU,” says Porter, an LSU fan himself who now lives in Florida. “Any kid who lives in Alabama and loves LSU deserves our love back. His love is genuine. He cares about the team and Coach O. He deserves my money.”
Burrow’s magical 2019 season culminated in LSU’s first Heisman Trophy winner in 60 years, and while he’s likely oblivious to it, the quarterback’s victory on Saturday night has already inspired acts of kindness. In addition to Porter’s decision, a Facebook fundraiser that began Sunday has generated more than $90,000 in donations for a food pantry in Burrow’s hometown of Athens, Ohio, a place he described during his speech as “very impoverished.” The fundraiser, which has blown past its goal of $30,000, is for the Athens County Food Pantry. “I’m up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school,” Burrow told a national audience on ESPN after accepting the Heisman. “You guys can be up here, too.”
During this thrilling year, Burrow set multiple SEC records, helped the Tigers claim their first SEC championship in eight years and has them as the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff. He’s taken the country by storm, his quirky personality, shocking statistics and, maybe most of all, his inexplicable one-year turnaround. Few saw this coming, especially not Las Vegas. Burrow, 200-to-1 odds in preseason to win the Heisman, became the biggest longshot winner in the last decade. Vegas is taking an L. Porter turned his $50 bet into $10,000—and so did many others. One man claimed a combined $600,000 of winnings on separate $100 and $500 bets on Burrow, according to actionnetwork.com. Another person cashed out for $50,000 on a $1,000 bet made after Burrow’s odds went from 200-to-1 to 50-to-1 following LSU’s season opener.
“(It’s) a great story but a costly one for some sports books including us,” tweeted Jimmy Vaccaro, a 41-year Vegas bookmaker now working for South Point Sports. “He will take a bite out of our ass.”
Porter’s winnings at least are going to a good cause. With Burrow as such a heavy favorite to win the award entering Saturday, Porter had spent the previous few days deciding what to do with the money. After hearing the LSU quarterback’s stirring speech on Saturday night, he settled on the charitable decision to Moore’s GoFundMe account. Porter doesn’t know Moore or his family, but his story—written about in the local Baton Rouge newspaper and portrayed on Louisiana televisions stations—was enough to convince the 41-year-old to pass on that Bahamas trip. Moore, bound to a wheelchair, cannot take food by mouth and requires breathing assistance at night. He has had 38 surgeries, with two more scheduled in January, according to a story published in September in the Baton Rouge–based Advocate newspaper.
Moore, raised by a family of Auburn fans in central Alabama, became a big LSU fan while watching the school’s baseball team win the 2017 SEC tournament near his home in Hoover, Alabama. His LSU fandom grew from there. He became infatuated with Orgeron and his gravelly voice. The school learned of Moore earlier this fall when his mother Jennifer shared a photo on Facebook of her son’s interest in meeting Orgeron. Weeks later, Moore and family found themselves being toured around the LSU football facility by Orgeron himself. He even celebrated on the field with players after the Tigers beat Utah State, and Orgeron introduced the boy to the media during a postgame news conference. “He’s going through more than I will ever go through even at the end of my days, as tough as they likely will be,” Porter says. “His entire life is encompassed with that kind of struggle.”
For Porter, this season has been a much different kind of struggle. Over the course of the year, his gambling outfit made offers to him to cash out his bet, the biggest amount ($3,865.38) coming before the Tigers played Auburn on Oct. 26. He was tempted but never caved. “There’s been a million people tell me, ‘Take the money,’” Porter says. “I could have walked away at any point in time. I was like, ‘No way. I believe in Joe.’ Every week his performance made my decision that much easier. He continued to always reaffirm my initial faith in him. It was nerve wracking every game until 10 minutes in and he was lighting people up.”
Porter expects to receive winnings of about $7,000 after taxes. He’ll give about half of it to Moore’s GoFundMe and $1,000 to his father Gary. How about the rest? Well, he’s saving that up for something special: a trip to New Orleans in mid-January, where he hopes his Tigers will be playing for the national championship. “We’ll be there,” he guarantees. “We’ll be there.”