PHOENIX — Fans will gather at sports bars around the Valley Sunday to watch the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons clash in Super Bowl LI and the crowd at Toso’s Sports Bar & Grill figures to be especially enthusiastic.
The New England Patriots Fan Club of Arizona gathers at Toso’s for every Patriots game, and when New England played in the Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale in 2015, Toso’s was filled to capacity.
“I’d say it was in excess of 250 people. Whatever the bar capacity is what it takes,” said Harry Keyes, president of the fan club.
“We were outside at 9 o’clock in the morning for the bar to open at 11 o’clock for the game that was at 4:30 in the afternoon. I suspect it will be very similar to that this year.”
There is no mistaking where loyalties lie at Toso’s. The inside of the bar is decorated with Patriots flags, pictures and banners. The waitstaff will wear custom shirts for Super Bowl Sunday. It is a safe bet that everyone there will be rooting for the Patriots.
“It’s better than sitting with a bunch of, like, Green Bay fans or a bunch of Cardinal fans,” Patriots fan John Dick said. “You need fellowship; the fellowship of the Patriots.”
It’s not just that Toso’s is free of other fan groups. Keyes said that having like-minded fans around makes viewing games at Toso’s a more pleasurable experience.
“Even though I have DirecTV and I could have had it on my TV at home, it’s always nice and fun to sit with a bunch of other people cheering for the same team all the time,” Keyes said. “It’s a lot of fun watching with a group of people that enjoy the same team you enjoy.”
The fan club formed in Arizona in 1997 when the Patriots lost to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI.
“I actually happen to be from New England and the major fan club was at the Vine,” Toso’s owner Dave Dilettoso said. “The Vine went out of business (in 2009) and the club was looking for a new home, and I was looking to sponsor more Patriots fans.”
Keyes said Dilettoso is from Connecticut and when game time comes, he’s just as much fan as he is bar owner.
“He’ll sit here and watch the games with us sometimes when he’s not busy running his bar,” Keyes said.
Keyes said the Arizona club is the largest Patriots fan club outside of New England and team owner Robert Kraft has noticed.
Kraft has visited with the club several times, including this season when the Patriots played the Cardinals to open the season in September.
And who could blame the Patriots fans for being happy to see Kraft? Under his ownership, New England has won four Super Bowls, and club members have been able to celebrate all of them.
On Sunday, they might get to celebrate a fifth.
“I think it’s going to be a shootout,” said Bill Harney, a lifelong Patriots fan. “I think the Pats are going to win. Whoever makes the fewest amount of mistakes is going to win that football game.”
Atlanta fans don’t have a regular gathering spot in the Phoenix area, but if there are any Falcons followers really needing to be surrounded by fellow Atlanta fans, there is always On the Thirty sports bar.
Located in Sherman Oaks, California, a six-hour drive from Phoenix, it is where the Atlanta Falcons Fans of Los Angeles will be gathering to cheer on Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and crew.
Kody Acevedo of Cronkite News contributed to this story.