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The kids who play football for the Phelps Falcons don’t have anywhere near the cash to buy Super Bowl tickets. But the entire team — coaches included — are going to the big game as guests of the National Football League.

The surprise gift, announced at last weekend’s Vikings-Green Bay Packers game, kicked off a larger giveaway announced by the NFL Thursday.

The NFL is giving away 500 tickets and surprising fans across the country with more tickets throughout the season in the first year of a new initiative.

The league says the program is “a way to give back to dedicated NFL fans and provide them with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

According to local media reports, someone at the NFL read a story in Sports Illustrated about how two brothers on the Falcons team, Isaiah and Zaevion Henderson, found refuge in football when they were adopted by their aunt after their mother’s murder.

One thing led to another, and on Sunday NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs surprised Falcons and players with the news that their entire eighth-grade team and coaches will be coming to the Super Bowl Feb. 4, along with Jim Halbur, senior pastor at Fountain of Life Gospel Church, and president of the Falcons nonprofit.

As part of the larger ticket giveaway announced Thursday, Super Bowl tickets will also be given away in Minneapolis at the Super Bowl Experience in the days leading up to the game at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Beginning this week and continuing throughout the season, fans will be surprised during tailgates, at stadiums, and even inside their own homes. More than half the tickets — 256 of the 500 — will be given out by NFL clubs, with an additional 64 being distributed by the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominees, along with support from their teams.

The remaining 180 tickets will be distributed by the NFL at league events such as fan forums, youth football clinics, and through social media and other channels. The league will also partner with the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee to ensure local fans are identified, including at the Super Bowl Experience in Minneapolis, just moments before the big game.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

Twitter: @rochelleolson