Adam Birmingham, an 18-year-old student at Lakewood Ranch High, received quite a surprise when NFL star Dee Ford walked into a local store and bought him a new guitar.

Maybe it was because of the car accident. And the injured lady he helped that night. Maybe that’s why it happened.


All Adam Birmingham knows for sure is the new guitar hanging on his bedroom wall came with a lesson that has nothing to do with music.


The Lakewood Ranch High senior had been going to Guitar Center nearly every day for a year, always playing the same Schecter CR-6 worth $700, a guitar he could never afford, only dream about owning.


One day in December a man he had never seen before came in, grabbed a Fender Stratocaster off the wall, sat next to him and for the next 90 minutes they jammed and talked music. When it came time for the man to leave he asked Birmingham if he could have anything in the store what would it be? Birmingham said the guitar he had been playing.


“Would you believe me if I said I would buy it for you?” the man said.


Now, at first Birmingham did not recognize Dee Ford, the All-Pro defensive end for the San Francisco 49ers who signed a five-year deal before the season worth $85 million. He certainly knows him now, and if San Francisco wins Sunday and reaches the Super Bowl, what a story Birmingham will have. Heck, it’s pretty good already.


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Ford, it turns out, has quite a musical background and plays the guitar, piano and drums. He wrote his first song in third grade and called it “Color Blind.” His family performed as a group called “The Ford Connection” when he was in high school, and he played piano at a church every Sunday when he was a college star at Auburn.


Ford, who has a music studio in his home, owns 25 keyboards and eight guitars. He plays by ear, which led him to develop a photographic memory, he has said during interviews. That, in turn, has helped him to digest football playbooks easily.


He stopped by Guitar Center in Lakewood Ranch during Week 14 of the NFL season when San Francisco was staying in Bradenton while preparing for a game in New Orleans.


Birmingham, an 18-year-old who moved to the area from Ohio a few years back, wonders if good deeds from the past led to his chance encounter with Ford. They probably didn’t hurt.


The week of Thanksgiving, he said, he was driving along State Road 64 with a friend when they happened upon a Jeep that had hit the median and flipped. The woman inside had a leg injury, and possibly a concussion. He said they were able to help get her out of the Jeep.


The next day, he said, he helped someone else whose car had broken down in the middle of the road.


A short time later Ford appeared from nowhere, bought him the guitar and told him to “pay it forward.” Apparently he did.


The next week, he stopped at a gas station with his girlfriend, Briana Cason, and next to them was a woman from Texas. It seemed the family dog had raced out of the car and she was frantic. Birmingham and Cason took off and found it.


“I’ve learned no matter who you are always be kind to someone and you will get paid back for it,” Birmingham said.


It didn’t take San Francisco reporters long to hear about Ford’s gift to Birmingham and ask him about it. Ford said Birmingham possessed a trait he admired.


“I was just there playing and I saw this kid,” Ford told reporters. “He was really, really good. He reminded me of myself when I first learned how to play a keyboard and he was very passionate.


“My message to him was to keep that passion and don’t let anyone take it away from you.”


Contact columnist Chris Anderson at chris.anderson@heraldtribune.com


This story originally published to heraldribune.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.