Forty years ago, U.S. Air Force master sergeant Kevin John Kelley was born a New England Patriots fan and grew up in Foxborough rooting for the home team.
“I was born and raised in Foxborough so it was kind of in my blood,” Kelley said of being a Patriots fan. “I’ve been going to games since the old Schaefer Stadium way back in the day and obviously it’s been a better run since Mr. Kraft took over. It’s been a lot easier to be a Pats fan [recently].”
On Sunday, the Patriots rewarded Kelley for his lifelong devotion to the team by naming him the 2012 Fan of the Year prior to its game with the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.
“It really is [awesome] … it is outstanding,” Kelley said. “My wife nominated me for it and never told me about it so I’m just ecstatic I don’t know how else to say it.”
Kelley’s wife, Rachel, stated in the nomination process that “he truly loves the team - they mean a lot to him, as watching them has gotten him through many tough times as well as the good times."
Kelley, who now resides in North Attleboro with his family, joined the Air Force in 1993, just two years after graduating from Foxborough High School. He currently serves a master sergeant in the United State Air Force's 212th Installation and Engineering Squadron and just recently returned from deployment in the Middle East. It was an especially difficult deployment for Kelley because it came just one week after the birth of his daughter.
Despite being a world away from home, Kelley always found solace in the Patriots. He never missed a game because he always found a way to watch the Pats over the Internet. He followed the team with whatever sports pages he could find and consistently showed his Patriots pride, highlighted by putting up a Christmas tree donned entirely with Patriots ornaments.
On Sunday, it was the Patriots turn to show their appreciation to Kelley. The team presented the Foxborough native with the Joseph R. Mastrangelo Memorial Trophy, established by the Mastrangelo family in honor of their father, a devoted Patriots fan. Kelley was also presented with one pair of tickets to the 2013 Season and a customized Fan of the Year Patriots Jersey on the Gillette Stadium turf prior to the start of the Pats regular season finale against the Dolphins.
“It’s been a phenomenal few days since I learned about it,” Kelley said. “It’s just been great.”
Kelley, a Patriots season-ticket holder, was chosen from nearly 300 nominees. Since the inception of Patriots Fan of the Year Award in 1987, the New England Patriots have presented 28 individuals with the Joseph R. Mastrangelo Memorial Trophy, honoring the fan or fans that best represent the spirit of the Patriots, at games or in their communities. Bank of America - the Official Bank of the New England Patriots – announced the selection.
An elated Kelley, soaking up his moment from the sidelines while some of his favorite players warmed up on the field next to him, offered up a prediction for how the Pats will fare this postseason.
“Pats are going to be the two seed, Denver is going to lose [in the playoffs] and we are going to play the AFC Championship game here,” Kelley said.
So far, so good as the Pats locked up the second seed in the AFC after a 28-0 win Sunday over the Dolphins coupled with a Houston Texans loss.
We’ll find out after 8 p.m. on Jan. 13 if the rest of Kelley’s prediction comes true.