Sandy Polimeno's love affair with football started when she was a student at Lexington High School.
She didn't know much about it at first, but an assistant coach took the time to teach her and a small group of fellow cheerleaders about the game they were watching on the sidelines every week.
"My father was happier than anyone," Polimeno reflected decades later, after that love evolved into a passionate allegiance for the New England Patriots. "I'd sit with him for every game and he didn't have to explain it to me anymore."
Polimeno recently was recognized for this longtime loyalty, being honored as the Patriots Fan of the Year for 2022 at New England's final home game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 1.
She's the 36th fan to earn the Joseph R. Mastangelo Memorial trophy, given out in partnership with Bank of America to a fan who best represents the spirit of the Patriots.
"We're very proud to partner with the Patriots, and this award means so much to the awardee we're giving it to and to the Patriots," said Miceal Chamberlain, president of Bank of America, Massachusetts
"I got to know Sandy. She's been coming since the old stadium and she has her whole family here today pouring on the support. She's a terrific fan and she never misses a game."
Polimeno's fandom dates back all the way to the 1960s, with her formally becoming a season ticket member in 1993. From old parking lot tailgates in the 80s and cold metal bleachers in Section 116 to becoming a club member, she and her husband Larry ensured their three children and 10 grandchildren would grow up, partly, in a seat at Gillette Stadium.
"Some people ask if our family goes to church on Sundays," Sandy said in her contest submission. "We respond that Gillette Stadium is our church!"
The Joseph R. Mastrangelo Memorial award was created in 1987 to celebrate fans who embody extreme passion, unwavering dedication and a deep level of loyalty for the team.
"With a fan heritage dating back to the sixties and the fan legacy she is building through her children and grandchildren, as well as her philanthropy and courage, Sandy Polimeno exemplifies taking the game experience off the field and bringing it into her personal life and why she is Fan of the Year," said the Mastrangelo family.
With her passion for the Patriots, she embodies the organization's ethics as well.
Polimeno is a two-time breast cancer survivor, and was also honored this season before the Crucial Catch game. She's also a leader and philanthropist in her community, providing charitable support to multiple organizations, military appreciation programs and local schools by her home in Tewksbury.
"She stuck through some tough times when the Patriots weren't as successful and she still comes today, bringing her family and friends," said Chamberlain. She loves it. Her spirit is always in it."
With the honor, Sandy also received two 2023 season tickets for next year, ensuring her cherished football family traditions continue.