Even though the Patriots were edged out of a spot in the NFL playoffs, 11-year-old Evan Delaney of Hadley, Mass. ensured there would be another football championship title brought home to New England this year.
After winning local and sectional qualifiers, Delaney advanced to the New England championship of the NFL Pepsi Punt, Pass and Kick competition, held at Gillette Stadium on Nov. 9. In securing a regional crown, he earned the right to represent New England and the Patriots at the national finals, held Saturday, Jan. 10 before the Carolina Panther's Divisional Playoff game with the Arizona Cardinals.
Delaney completed his quest, winning the national championship. What might be more impressive is that Delaney doesn't even currently play organized football. He credits his abilities taken from playing baseball and soccer as main factors in his football-related success.
But, if his recent string of performances is any indication, the talented youngster might want to reconsider a potential future on the gridiron.
"I play football a lot with my friends," Delaney said. "They're always trying to get me to play with them."
Delaney wasn't the only local to compete in Charlotte for the ultimate prize. Three New England states were represented in the field of 32 finalists who outlasted the 3.5 million contestants entered in the nationwide contest. Elisa Formiglio of Bozrah, Conn. and Anna Grant of Stratham, N.H. represented the region in the Girls 12-13 and Girls 14-15 divisions, respectively.
The competition, which started in 1961, was just a small part of the weekend-long experience as the contestants and their two guests were provided with airfare, hotel accommodations and tickets to the Panthers-Cardinals game following the event.
"It was pretty exciting. They put me on TV!" Formiglio exclaimed.
That might not even have been the highlight of the entire experience though.
"I remember when my mom came into school and told me that I was going to Nationals," said Formiglio, who finished second overall. "I couldn't believe it. I just jumped on my mom and I was screaming. All the kids were like, 'what's she screaming about?' I was just so excited. It was amazing."
Grant is no stranger to the event. She's been taking part in Punt, Pass and Kick competitions since she was 7 years old and has advanced to the finals three times, making trips to New Orleans, Indianapolis and Charlotte.
However, Grant was thrust upon the national stage last year when she was unceremoniously booed after winning the national championship. She was introduced as representing the Patriots, during a Colts home game at the RCA Dome.
Still, last year's experience didn't deter the Exeter (N.H.) High School soccer star from entering again this year.
"My dad's a football coach and my younger and older brothers played football," said Grant about her initial reason to enter into the yearly contest. "I just wanted to be like them. I didn't do quite as well as I wanted to this year, but it's always been a great experience to go. I'll never forget it."