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Patriots superfan in Phoenix gets dream gift

Harry Keyes (left) got to the big game courtesy of his brother, Jim (right), who surprised him with tickets.
Harry Keyes (left) got to the big game courtesy of his brother, Jim (right), who surprised him with tickets.(Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)

PHOENIX — Until a few hours before kickoff, Harry Keyes was planning to watch the Super Bowl where he watches most every game: among friends and fellow Patriots fans at Toso’s Bar and Restaurant here.

But the Patriots weren’t the only ones who shocked their fans Sunday night.

When the team put the finishing touches on their remarkable victory, Keyes was celebrating just an extra point away from the field.

For Keyes and nearly all the Patriots superfans in and around Phoenix, Toso’s is the next best thing to being at the game, and he showed up a little after 9 a.m. — two hours before the bar opened — to claim a good seat.

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With tickets running into the tens of thousands of dollars on the secondary market, a seat at University of Phoenix Stadium was out of the question for many.

“Maybe if we would’ve hit in Vegas,” said Bob Farmer of Lowell, who detoured to Phoenix during a Las Vegas vacation but didn’t buy tickets.

“The mortgage needs to be paid,” said Katie MacKay, a New England transplant who lives north of Phoenix now.

But for Keyes, someone called an audible.

A little after noon, Keyes — the vice president and former president of Arizona’s official Patriots fan club — was joking with friends at the crowded bar that is the fan club’s home base.

Then fan club president Rob Legge took to the small stage at Toso’s to say he had a special announcement and a surprise guest. A local celebrity of some sort? A former player, perhaps?

It was Harry’s younger brother, Jim, who lives in Dallas.

And in his hand were two tickets.

“I was flabbergasted,” Harry said.

Bearded, balding, and bespectacled, still complaining about being taken out of context by a television reporter in 2008, Harry Keyes, 67, is kind of a character. And here, he’s beloved: When Jim showed up with the tickets, the crowd cheered like Rob Gronkowski had just bowled over a linebacker on the way to the end zone.

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They high-fived Harry and yelled his name, as happy for him as they would have been for themselves. They rubbed his head and shoved him around in celebration.

The Keyes boys grew up in Grafton, where Harry’s fanhood was forged more than 50 years ago. “I’ve been watching them ever since,” he said.

But their lives took different paths. Harry joined the Air Force and became an electrician after he got out of the service. Jim went to college and became the chief executive of 7-Eleven and then of Blockbuster. He now runs Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets Inc.

Jim, 59, said he and his brother spent a lot of years rooting on some pretty hapless teams, but he had the chance to attend several Super Bowls. Harry never did, and he never asked. So Jim did it for him.

“I cooked up this scheme with my sister-in-law,” Jim said. He flew in secretly Saturday night, and plotted with the fan club to spring the surprise at the bar. The tickets, he acknowledged, “were a little expensive.”

Toso’s always does brisk business on game day. Owner Dave Dilettoso, a Connecticut native, was among several barkeeps wooing the fan club when they were looking for a home a few years ago.

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Sunday was something different, and the roar after the go-ahead touchdown there was surely the second-loudest in the state.

Scott Holt, another fan club officer, estimated that 70 percent of the standing-room-only crowd were out-of-towners, many of whom came to Phoenix in hopes of getting into the game but were shut out.

But not Harry Keyes.

The brothers were emotional as they left the bar. Harry grabbed the microphone and said the only downside was that he wouldn’t get to watch this one with his friends.

“I would’ve enjoyed the hell out of it with my friends, but this was much more special,” Keyes said, still ebullient hours after watching the game. “It was an amazing, amazing day.”

Heading out of town after the game, Jim was still savoring the incredible come-from-behind victory.

But some things are even bigger than the big game.

“The best part of the game was getting to do this for him,” Jim said. “He’s a great guy. And he’s got a lot of heart. Just like the Patriots.”


Nestor Ramos can be reached at nestor.ramos@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.