New England Patriots captain Matthew Slater found himself in the trophy room at Gillette Stadium on Thursday, marveling at the display of excellence no other team in the NFL can boast.
As the longest-tenured Patriots player, he was around to win three of those six Vince Lombardi trophies. Tim Fowler, the season ticket member he was waiting to surprise, had been there long before the first Super Bowl.
"Incredible," Fowler said, laughing in disbelief, as he was led into the trophy room to be greeted by Slater and Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft.
"Congratulations," Slater told him, holding up a customized jersey. "You're the 2023 Bank of America Fan of the Year."
Fowler has been attending games religiously since 1982, leading a caravan from Newburyport, Mass. for every home game and cementing himself as a prominent fixture at the tailgate.
"I can't tell you what an honor this is," Fowler told Kraft and Slater as he walked closer to shake their hands.
"Mr. Kraft, thank you for everything you've done. You've made my last 40 years really easy."
It may have been easy with all the team's success, but Fowler's commitment took great time management. Having been a season ticket member for 40 years, he missed just four home games during that time – twice for an illness that required hospitalization and twice for the weddings of friends and family members.
As an organist, he played at both of those nuptials. However, he's since warned loved ones against getting married on a Sunday.
"I have since told everyone, no more weddings during football season," Fowler said. "Or I won't be there – that's for sure."
Making the feat more impressive, Fowler also is a pancreatic cancer survivor.
Fowler was lured to Gillette Stadium under the pretense that he won a tour. He brought along his friend Aaron for the trip, who recalled being there with Fowler at Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans.
As Aaron told Kraft and Slater, when Adam Vinatieri kicked the winning field goal to secure the franchise's first championship, everyone was out of their seats cheering like crazy.
He looked down to see Fowler sitting down with tears in his eyes.
"I was just so happy to see them win a Super Bowl in my lifetime," Fowler said in the trophy room. Even a passionate fan like himself couldn't predict five more down the road.
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.
Fowler couldn't be more deserving of this season's recognition.
"It's indescribable that this could happen," Fowler said after the surprise.
"I was just one of the fans, for so long, who just sat and rooted for them and never gave up on them. We never gave up on them. We made sure we came to all the games that we could and supported them and cheered them on. But, boy, we've had quite a ride there for 20 years because when we first started, they weren't a very good team at all. Almost the laughingstock of the NFL. And then to rise above that and create this type of atmosphere? They've done so much for New England sports."