Man wrongly imprisoned for 10 years gets ‘golden ticket’ to big game

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Phoenix, AZ (KPHO) — Ryan Ferguson and his father, Bill, walked up the concourse at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport on Thursday after arriving in the Valley for an unexpected trip to the Super Bowl.

“It’s such an incredible experience,” Ferguson, who is originally from Missouri, said. “I really don’t want to have any expectations. I just want to go and experience it and be in the moment and just stay in the moment.”

National ticket broker Golden Tickets chose Ferguson as the first recipient of its “Get the Golden Ticket.” It will become an annual gift given by the company to honor a deserving person with a sports experience of a lifetime.

“There is no ands, ifs, or butts about it; Ryan Ferguson deserves to go to the Super Bowl,” said Ram Silverman, co-founder and owner of Golden Tickets.

Ferguson, 30, was arrested when he was 19 for the murder of a Missouri sports editor. He was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison. After spending 10 long years behind bars, two of the state’s main witnesses came forward and admitted they lied about Ferguson’s involvement in the murder. Ferguson was exonerated and declared a free man in November 2013.

“When you’re in prison for a crime you didn’t commit, it takes everything from you and you reach rock bottom and you are harboring resentment and you’re angry and you’re frustrated,” Ferguson said. “But I realized I still have my mind and my body and because of my family and their support, they’ helped me through it and I did everything I can to improve mentally and physically every single day.”

That realization and positive thinking had a profound effect on Ferguson behind bars. As time went by, maintaining that attitude helped him understand he was becoming a better person. He said it made him see a better side of himself.

“I realized that there were things that people could not take from me,” he said. “And in seeing that I realized that everyone else is the same and so if I can do that in those circumstances; everyone else can regardless of their circumstances.”

It was that attitude that caught the attention of Silverman.

“He endured everyone’s worst nightmare, being wrongfully convicted,” Silverman said. “And sending him to the ‘big game’ is our generous way to put a smile on his face and help him move forward in life.”

During his time behind bars, Ferguson feverishly began working out. He also wrote a book Stronger, Faster, Smarter: A Guide to Your Most Powerful Body.

Golden Tickets picked up the tab, not only for two tickets to the big game, but airfare, lodging and a rental car for Ferguson and a guest. Ferguson chose to bring his father.

“I wouldn’t be here right now if weren’t for my father and my whole family,” he said. “I wished I could have taken them all but I knew he’d appreciate it the most and he’s my best friend. So, I just look forward to have the whole weekend with him, really.”

The elder Ferguson said when his son called him a few weeks back and asked him if he’d like to go to the Super Bowl, he thought his son was joking. Then realized he was serious.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” Bill Ferguson said. “It just seems beyond comprehension. I think I’ve watched every Super Bowl except 10 years I lived oversees. And now to actually go to a Super Bowl, with Ryan, in person, in a fabulous place like Phoenix, AZ, is just amazing.”

The pair love spending time together. They plan to drive to Grand Canyon, see the Arizona scenery and soak in the festivities of the big game.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever had four or five days, just the two of us. So, we’re looking forward to it,” Bill said.

“We’re just going to hang out and check out the atmosphere. We hear the atmosphere is amazing and we just want to integrate our selves and enjoy life,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson is working on a second book and will soon start production on a documentary. He also has his own fitness company based out of Fort Myers, FL, where he now lives.

Ferguson has vowed to make it his life’s work to help others realize their true potential and to help others wrongfully accused.

“I’m just going to expose the realities of our justice system and if we can get closer to what the constitution lays out, I think we’ll have a better system for everyone,” he said. “Somehow we’ve gotten away from that and I’ll spend the rest of my life getting us closer.”

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