Well-connected or lucky, fans put it all on the line in Arizona

Email|Print| Text size + By Keith O'Brien
Globe Staff / February 3, 2008

PHOENIX - You knew things were starting to get out of hand when the DJ began playing "Sweet Caroline" every 20 minutes - or sometimes twice in a row - and the crowd at the bar didn't complain.

With every rendition of Neil Diamond's accidental anthem to Boston, New England Patriots fans - many of whom are spending a small fortune to attend the Super Bowl today or still desperately seeking tickets to the game - sang along. They stood on wobbly bar chairs waving Coors Light bottles and, of course, chanting on cue. Good times - at a bar inside a strip mall north of downtown Phoenix - had never felt so good.

"So good! So good!" the people shouted.

At about the same time, 30 miles north in Scottsdale, about a thousand friends and colleagues of Patri ots' owner Bob Kraft - people with connections and fine seats for the Super Bowl - gathered on a 33-acre Arabian horse ranch designed to resemble a Moroccan citadel to dine on cornmeal crusted crab cakes and ahi tuna tartare.

They entered beneath a towering statue of a Bedouin warrior, sipped mango margaritas amid former players, and watched the horses perform. And when the party was over around 10 on Thursday night, many retired to the bar at the Patriots team hotel to drink $9 gin and tonics.

These are the two disparate worlds of Super Bowl XLII. Some people have connections and some do not. Some have tickets and some do not.

Some, like Paul Knox, vice president of sales at Granite City Electric in Quincy, will be attending the Krafts' post-game party today. And some, like Rockland resident Derek Shanahan who dresses up in a cape and mask on game days, are just lucky to be getting into the game at all.

In this sense, Knox, 51, and Shanahan, 26, are about as different as they can be. But together they are the face of Patriots Nation on Super Bowl Sunday: corporate on the one hand, rabid on the other. Both will be cheering for the Pats to beat the New York Giants today. They just have a different view of what it would mean to lose.

"Would it ruin the weekend? Absolutely not," said Knox, a Foxborough resident. He is a diehard Boston sports fan - "a homer," he calls himself - who would not even be watching the Super Bowl if the Pats were not playing in it. But this weekend, he conceded, the top priority for him is not necessarily winning the game. It is winning business.

"That," Knox said, "is what it's all about."

At times this weekend, Knox will be entertained, thanks to Granite City's sponsorship of the team. Other times, he will be doing the entertaining, hosting the electrical wholesale supplier's customers in town for the game. There will be cigars, golf, steaks, and, hopefully, memories that will linger with Knox's customers long after the Patriots win - or lose.

"They'll remember who was here, what we did, the golf, the camaraderie," said Knox. "You're spending time with the customers, and they will remember that."

John Lynch, vice president of global communications at Reebok, agrees. For that reason, Reebok, the NFL's official outfitter, based in Canton, has not only flown in dozens of customers for the game, it has rented a Scottsdale mansion to serve as a hospitality center. And another major corporate player this weekend, Bridgestone, the sponsor of the halftime show, has made plans for customers as well.

Ed Hogan, president of the Woburn-based Hogan Tire and Auto Service Centers, got tickets, but not because he has been a Pats season-ticket holder for about 15 years. He and his brother, Tom, were given tickets through Bridgestone, along with airfare and hotel accommodations at a local resort.

"I just feel blessed, really," said Tom Hogan, who is a manager at Hogan Tire, a seller of Bridgestone products for about 25 years. "Of all the dealers that could have been asked - it's just extremely good fortune."

For many others, though, good fortune is elusive. While the Hogans were checking into their hotel in the desert on Thursday afternoon, Shanahan, his father Jerry, and his friend Jake Conway, a pipefitter from Rockland, were settling into their digs in Tempe.

"I hope you know. There's only one bed," said Conway's sister, Maribeth, who had booked the group of five a one-bedroom apartment in her complex for the weekend.

The men were unfazed. The apartment - stained beige carpet and all - would do just fine, they told her. They were here. That was what mattered. Then Maribeth Conway mentioned that the water was not exactly working at the moment, rendering showers and toilets questionable for use.

"You can flush," she said. "But it might not work."

"Oh," Jerry Shanahan replied, letting his response linger for a moment. "Cool."

But the Shanahans quickly brushed off that problem, too. They still had tickets to the Super Bowl. OK, they had two tickets in hand, which Jerry had purchased for more money than he cared to mention for fear of upsetting his wife. Two more tickets were waiting for them at the Patriots team hotel, assuming Jerry Shanahan had not been scammed when he ordered the tickets over the phone, which he was not at all sure about.

"It's legit," the son said.

"Let's hope," the father replied.

They piled into their rented Crown Victoria and drove across town, only to be told by a Phoenix police officer outside the Patriots hotel that they needed credentials to get inside and that, in fact, they were not even allowed in the parking lot.

Panic ensued.

Jerry Shanahan, a 53-year-old auto body shop owner, showed the officer a cloudy, faxed ticket confirmation. The officer was unimpressed. Shanahan then stated his case and even begged a little. And finally, the officer caved.

He agreed to escort the Shanahans inside to the will call window. But he ordered them to stay with him. And when Derek Shanahan attempted to take a picture, the officer snapped.

"No! No! No!" he said.

It was cocktail hour inside the hotel. Friends and family members of the Patriots mingled over drinks. These people had connections. They knew people or knew people who knew people.

But no one may have been happier at that moment than Jerry Shanahan, who was told at the will call window, yes, they had his tickets. Yes, he was going to the game.

"We're there, bud," he said, high-fiving his son.

Even the police officer seemed happy for them. On the way out, he only escorted them to the front door and even broke down and said Derek could take a picture if he wanted.

"Wow," Jerry Shanahan kept saying.

But there was more work to do. They had just four tickets, but there were five of them. They still needed to find one more ticket to the game.

Keith O'Brien can be reached at

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