Surprise! A Football-Themed 40th Birthday

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OBSTACLE: A grown man on the verge of a milestone birthday who does not like a lot of fuss.

tom skeenIn this case, we have a 40th birthday for Mister Eventfully Angela, my husband Tom. Here we break down for you the three fundamentals we used to brand his very special day.

In addition, we will outline the specific collection of elements that personalized the event and made it special for both the birthday boy and those that attended. A football-themed 40th birthday surprise party and all that is needed to replicate it.  

SOLUTION: Small, personalized arrangements with big impact.


A key to any good birthday celebration is the element of mystery and surprise. It shows time and care toward honoring this person and their achievement. It is the key ingredient to making the birthday boy or gal feel EXTRA special. But how can you surprise a grown man who doesn’t like a lot of fuss?

Here’s how we sprinkled surprises throughout the day for my husband’s milestone birthday:


He awoke to an obnoxiously large and embarrassing display on our front yard. All it took was a phone call and the group handled the rest.

They came in the middle of the night to set up this Clemson football-themed “card” for our entire neighborhood to see. “Cheers to Tom’s 40 years” was the message with graphics that showcased his love of beer and Clemson football.

This was a personalized surprise with little effort, minimal expense (less than $100), and a great way to kick off his special day!

birthday card in yard

Yard Card provided by:


We sent him off to work with six dozen treats to share with his co-workers later that afternoon. To continue with our Clemson football-inspired theme, we chose cake pops from SAS Cupcakes. A few were shaped like footballs, while the others were sprinkled in the Tigers’ colors.

birthday treats

Cupcakes provided by:

Sure, we could have stopped there with the surprises, but this was a milestone birthday and he is a pretty special guy. So at the end of his workday, a private Escalade SUV and driver awaited him. He was instructed to just “GET IN.”  

Transportation provided by:


After about an hour drive the driver dropped Tom off at a dark, unfamiliar house – a lake house rented for the weekend. Awaiting him were his family along with three friends and their families, ready to hand him a beer and yell SURPRISE!!

Lake House found on VRBO:

Once the shock of the surprise concluded, our birthday guy was escorted to a decorated table with a private chef ready to serve a three-course meal. The chef service not only did the cooking, but they served the food and did all of the clean-up.

As the host, I was able to sit, celebrate and actually eat with my husband. A guest at my own event. That’s a win!

private chef

Private Chef Experience provided by:


Choosing an event theme helps bring all the details together. It can be the helping hand when choosing the elements that make up the décor, the food, the gift, and the activities.

When choosing a theme – in this case for a birthday event – we are branding the event not based on a company logo, but on the identity of an individual.

What are Tom’s favorite things? What is he all about? The answer – simple, small and Clemson football. Since his birthday just happens to be in the midst of college football season and the day before a big Clemson game, it was a perfect fit.

However, we wanted it to be more than a tailgate party but still scream TOM. We kept it small, with only eight adults for an intimate dining experience.

The decor was simple, with an understated football theme that was only infused on the dinner table. No streamers or banners or a room full of balloons. 

Here’s what you’ll need to recreate this tasteful tablescape:

Table Cloth: Choose a solid color in one of the football team’s colors, in this case, Clemson purple.

Napkins: Use solid color cloth napkins in the other predominant color of the team, in this case, Clemson orange.

Table Runner: 1 (or 2) faux grass table runners to resemble a football field

Footballs: 1 dozen foam football stress balls

Candles: 1 dozen votive candle holders – gold mercury glass

1 dozen led tea lights

5 candlesticks with (white) taper candles. I used what I had in the house.

table decor

Flowers: 2 bunches of flowers from your local grocery store. One floral color matching the tablecloth, the other matching the napkins. I also had some dried baby’s breath from an old event that I also filled in here and there on the table.

Vases: 3 short, 1 tall glass vases for the above-mentioned flowers. Got mine cheap from Target.  

Goal posts: 2 goal posts for football finger flick sports game. I got lucky and they happened to come in orange that matched my décor. Other colors were available.

The goal posts I purchased had suction cups on the bottom. I shoved them in one of the votive holders to keep them upright and fancy them up a bit.

Artificial Grass: 3 small square artificial grass in a planter, or in my case wood block.

From Michael’s craft store.

Terrariums: 5 gold and glass terrariums – 4 short, 1 tall. Inside the terrariums, I had either a candle holder and/or a squishy football or two. In the large one, I had one of the three artificial grass planters. Also from Michael’s craft store (on clearance!).

Chargers: Round gold chargers for under plates. Again, from Michael’s craft store.


To achieve this, we asked ourselves how can we capture the essence of Tom and give him his proper due. We kicked it off with the personalized, Clemson themed yard card already mentioned and infused a few other key elements that made it uniquely Tom’s day.  

Personalized gift: We gifted my husband with a custom Nike Clemson football game jersey, personalized with his last name on the back. The jersey number? The big 4-0 of course. I incorporated it into the table décor by fitting it onto the chair designated for the birthday boy at dinner.  

Clemson birthday jersey

Gift purchased here:

The cake: My husband loves cookie cake…LOVES! No fancy 3-tiered cake would ever do, so as much as it pained me to resist the temptation, I had to do what reflected our birthday boy. So simple, personalized cookie cakes from Harris Teeter is what he got, adorned in Clemson-colored frosting and matching candles.

clemson cookie cake

Cake provided by:

The Venue: Where to celebrate his birthday was just as important, if not more important, than how we were going to celebrate it. Finding the right venue is crucial to an event’s success.

The physical environment plays a significant role in making it a memorable experience, and it was the first thing I found.

lake house

My husband loves the water and all the activities that come with it. Choosing a lake house where he could relax with a small group of his best friends, watch Clemson football and drink IPA beer as the sun set on a lake captured the very nature of Tom. It just felt like him. Once I found the right spot, everything else fell into place.

Lake House found on VRBO:


Branding an event is not just a corporate concept. It too has a place in the social planning space. Event branding is the process of giving meaning to your event by creating cohesive elements that identify and differentiate your event from others.  A collection of elements that make up the image of the event in the minds of your attendees.

Here are some testimonials that followed …

“Thanks for having a birthday so that we could have fun! Eventfully Angela sure knows how to host a B-day weekend!”

“Thanks again for an amazing weekend!…we all had a blast….you crushed it!”

“Great weekend! As always you did an amazing job!”

And from the birthday boy himself … “What an amazing way to bring in 40!!! Surprises from start to finish, full of great views and great people!!…thank you for making a guy feel special!”

Sounds like a touchdown to us!  



med mini_AE_IconEventfully Angela is a premier independent event management partner specializing in Corporate Events and Event Branding. Based in Charlotte, NC, Eventfully Angela fills the resource gaps of businesses both large and small, with premium and customized services. Specialties include full-service planning, sourcing and venue selection, on-site day of support, consulting and contract audits, event marketing and branding, experiential event design, and fully customized event registration websites. 704-754-2627

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