CLEARWATER — Summer may be knocking on our door, but for Tampa Bay Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman and 13-year-old Michael Garrison, it was a Winter's day.
Thursday, the two took a dip in a tank at Clearwater Marine Aquarium with the celebrity dolphin famous for her prosthetic tale.
In the pool, Winter jumped, whistled and played a game of peek-a-boo, for which she received servings of fresh capelin, a small fish.
Then, the gentle dolphin laid her head on Michael's knees while Freeman, 22, stroked her head.
"She's such a lap dolphin; she loves to be rubbed," said Jeni Hatter, the aquarium's spokesperson. "She seems to sense people who are special."
On this day, the special person was Michael, a Make-A-Wish child, who digs dolphins — he swam with some last summer — and the Bucs.
"I've grown up watching them on TV," he said.
He's such a football fan, the Plant City resident and seventh-grader at Tomlin Middle School once hoped to become a professional football player.
At a height of 5 feet 7, the blue-eyed blond looks the part.
But his plans for a sports career were cut short when he was diagnosed three years ago with a platelet function disorder, which prevents his blood from clotting normally.
"It's similar to hemophilia," said his mother, Deana Garrison, 38.
He bruises excessively and knots tend to form under the skin from any kind of trauma, so heavy contact sports like football are out.
The aquarium visit was one of several gifts that have been bestowed upon Michael by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to children with life-threatening diseases.
"I'm feeling pretty lucky," Michael said. "It was pretty amazing to meet one of the rarest of dolphins."
And to meet one of the rarest of quarterbacks wasn't too shabby either.
After all, Freeman is the youngest quarterback in Bucs' history to start and win his first game.
"He's very special and very nice," Michael said.
For Freeman, playing football means reaching out to the community.
"I hope to leave my mark on the NFL, but there are much more important things in life than your status on the football field," he said. "This is one of them."
Freeman is getting involved in the community in another way, too. He is hosting his inaugural football camp in July.
Michael Garrison is invited to the camp and so are other kids.