There was one surprise party after another on Wednesday, with three individuals invited to Gillette Stadium (or partaking in a Zoom call) with the New England Patriots under somewhat false pretenses.
Whether they anticipated a season ticket holder event, community leadership luncheon, or an interview about wheelchair football, certainly no one expected to be given two trips to the Super Bowl by the NFL and Robert Kraft.
"It can't be for me," said longtime Patriots season ticket holder Roger McDevitt. "I'm just a regular guy who goes to the games with my boys and friends. We've been coming for 50 years."
McDevitt has been a season ticket member since 1972, and was nominated by another, Bob Lord, a lifelong friend he's attended Patriots games with for years. The educator, coach, and referee has been around football his entire life, using it as a vehicle to connect with students at Framingham High School before retiring after 45 years. Lord thought he was perfect to represent the Patriots in Arizona this year, and so did the organization.
"When we bought the team we hadn't sold out in 34 years, and I was like you, in the stands, knowing the caliber of people we had and how much they wanted to win a championship," Kraft told McDevitt while showing him the six Lombardi Trophies.
"The support that people like you gave us allowed us to build on what we knew was already there."
The franchise's success allowed the Kraft family and the Patriots to mirror it off the field and in the community, and host events like wheelchair football clinics this past November.
That's where the organization got to know Kellan Tilton, a 10-year-old cancer survivor from Detroit, Maine. As one of eight children, the Patriots fan is unable to play traditional football like his six brothers did. A cancerous tumor on his spine left him paralyzed from the waist down, but while participating in the clinic at Gillette Stadium, his enthusiasm and personality were infectious.
With help from Tilton's principal, Kraft surprised the boy, his family, close friends and teachers by inviting him to the Super Bowl over a Zoom call.
"I want you to know, Kellan, that you're an inspiration to our team, the players and our whole fanbase because you've handled adversity with a big smile on your face. You're a cool dude and we're really proud to have you as a fan."
Addario Miranda, a Project 351 student ambassador from Lowell, will also represent the Patriots fanbase well in Arizona.
Miranda used his own personal story about food insecurity to advocate for an extension of universal school meals in Massachusetts to impact change. He was part of a briefing in July that helped pass legislature that devoted $110 million to providing free school meals across the state, which 400,000 students in Massachusetts have benefited from.
He believed he was attending a leadership awards ceremony for outstanding contribution to the community, but the award was actually two Super Bowl tickets.
"I am just so happy and grateful to be here and for everything that's been given to me," Miranda said.
"I'm blessed to have this opportunity and am overwhelmed with excitement. This is a great day."