COLUMBIA — Ryan Ferguson got the golden ticket.
A little over a year after he was released from prison after his 2005 murder conviction was vacated, Ferguson will go to his first Super Bowl with his father, courtesy of Golden Tickets.
The Texas-based ticket broker provided the two with a package to the Feb. 1 Super Bowl that includes airfare, hotel accommodations and access to tailgate parties.
"We wanted to do something nice," Golden Tickets co-founder and owner Ram Silverman said. "We are giving them the whole package, making sure that Ryan and his dad have a great time."
Silverman said he has followed Ferguson’s story for a long time.
Ferguson was convicted of the 2004 killing Columbia Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt.
In November 2013, Ferguson was freed from prison. He had served eight years of a 40-year sentence.
"The attitude that he had, and has — just after all he’d been through," Silverman said. "I was blown away by it."
He said he was inspired by Ferguson and decided to do something for him. Silverman and his business partner at the Golden Tickets started a "Get the Golden Ticket" prize and selected Ferguson to be the first to receive the gift package.
According to Silverman, the prize will be awarded every year to "somebody we feel is deserving." He and his company will select a winner based on stories submitted by email.
Ryan Ferguson’s father, Bill Ferguson, said the two are big football fans and are excited about the game.
"We were just too cheap to have the money to go to the Super Bowl," Bill Ferguson said. "But we watch football really religiously.”
During Ryan Ferguson’s year in prison, his family has spent thousands of dollars on publicity to raise national support for his case.
Bill Ferguson, who works as a real estate agent at RE/MAX Boone Realty, once said the family had paid the cost, which reached approximately $250,000 with savings, retirement funds, loans from extended family and a new mortgage on the house.
He said the gift was truly appreciated.
"It’s not one ticket; it’s two," Bill Ferguson said. "The first professional football game we attend together turned out to be the Super Bowl. It’s pretty exciting."
Supervising editor is Bailey Otto.