Mar 7, 2018
Longtime NFL referee Bob Wagner sat down in the living room of his son’s house after a round of golf with no idea of what was about to happen. His son, Mike, popped an Aikens Lake DVD into his laptop and hit play. When Bob gushed, “Wow, we should go there sometime,” his son exclaimed, “We are, Dad! It’s already booked.”
The five days in July that Bob had already blocked on his calendar at Mike’s request to “play in a golf tournament” with his son was in fact an unforgettable three-generation trip to celebrate Bob’s 80th birthday at Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge.
The surprise gift had a ripple effect beyond the Wagner family, as Bob’s life perspective made an unexpected impact on Pit and the entire Aikens staff at the Aikens dining room on July 12.
On the final day of his trip, Bob qualified for the Century Club with a 102-inch total for his four largest walleyes, highlighted by a 27-incher. At dinner that night Pit presented Bob with his Century Club award and honorary mug, and Bob took the opportunity to express his gratitude for his family, his life and the chance to enjoy special moments with those he loved.
Bob’s sincere, gracious and eloquent words evoked an emotional response at Aikens.
“One of the most special moments of the season happened when Bob Wagner took the floor after receiving his Century Club award!” Pit recalled. “He gave one of the best, most humble, most inspiring speeches. I was getting misty listening to him, and afterward when I was able to sneak back into the kitchen the girls greeted me with hugs because they were also all teary!”
“I have never heard anything like it,” Pit said. “Quite an amazing man!”
A vibrant life filled with many friends, loving family and unique experiences––including being an NFL ref for over 20 years––has shaped Bob into the man he is today.
“I have been privileged to be in front of large audiences, over 100,000 screaming fans, but none of that would ever be more exciting to me than coming to fish at Aikens with my son and grandson,” said Bob, who was assigned to ref Super Bowl 34 back in 2000 between the Tennessee Titans and the St. Louis Rams.
In fact, that same year Bob was a ref during another NFL playoff game which became legendary due to its wild finish. The Divisional Round playbook game also featured the Tennessee Titans, who fell behind 16-15 on what appeared to be a game-winning field goal by the Buffalo Bills with 16 seconds left in the game.
On the ensuing kickoff return, Tennessee ran a trick play with a handoff and an across-the-field lateral that went for a 75-yard game-winning touchdown on the game’s final play, shocking the football world and creating an instant classic, known as The Music City Miracle.
“Bob was a ref for the game that made me a Tennessee Titans fan,” said Pit, who after meeting the man in person last summer is now an even bigger Bob Wagner fan. “Bob is such a nice guy! Their trip was super special.”
“Fishing in Canada with my sons and grandsons was on my bucket list. The whole trip was one of those once in a lifetime experiences,” said Bob, who almost didn’t get to experience it at all when his wife suffered a fall six weeks before the trip, breaking her right femur and requiring a new knee. “Needless to say, we were thinking this would cancel this trip. However, my wife who is a super woman, went through the surgery and was in rehab when the dates for our trip arrived and she still insisted we go. Talk about a guy who is not only loved by his wife but has always appreciated how unselfish she really is. She knew how much this trip meant to us.”
The trip began with a bang when Bob’s grandson, Adam, caught a big pike for the very first fish of the trip. From then on, it was “five days of unbridled joy,” according to Bob.
“Our cabin was excellent and the food at the main lodge was outstanding with a bar that was full of other friendly guests. Our guide, Derek, was great and prepared some of the most memorable shore lunches overlooking the beautiful lake and landscape,” Bob said. “Derek also partnered with my son to defeat me and my grandson in a hard-fought shuffleboard tournament. Nice people served us at every turn and made us feel not only welcomed but well-served.”
For Bob, creating memories and enjoying quality time with his son and grandson at Aikens was better than any birthday present he could have ever anticipated. He’s already declared that for his 90th birthday he’ll treat the family to a return trip, though he’s not sure if he’ll be able to wait a decade to revisit Aikens.
“I would recommend the resort to all who want to know how good fishing is in Canada,” Bob said. “Cigars, fish, Scotch, cool Canadian beer, more fish, and being with two great men that I love was more than I ever expected on my 80th. This was the Super Bowl of fishing.”