By Brent Schwartz
Reporting from Houston
On the afternoon before Super Bowl LI, New England Patriots’ fans swarmed Diablo Loco, a sports bar just eight miles north of NRG Stadium, where their beloved team will take on the Atlanta Falcons Sunday.
The bar is a usual hotspot for Patriots’ fans, thanks to the Houston Patriots Fans club.
The organization is an officially registered club, and is the biggest group of New England Patriots’ fans in the Houston area. On game days, the rowdy bunch fills up Diablo Loco, where fans enjoy beer and shot specials while cheering on their favorite team. The group was founded in 2006. After beginning with just a few members, the club now has roughly 600 members.
“We had to contact the Patriots to become officially registered,” said club founder Chris Stuck. There are other Patriots clubs all around the world. It’s a big deal.”
Also at Diablo Loco were a camera crew and set for CSNNE (Comcast SportsNet New England). The station recorded a live show featuring former Patriots Troy Brown and Dan Koppen.
“We’ve had several news agencies contact us,” said longtime member Casey O’Brien. “We’re widely known as the Patriots fan club in Houston.”
O’Brien also added that the club was asked to be on Good Morning America.
The members are kept up-to-date on Facebook, and by a weekly mailing list that features game predictions and recaps. The mailing list is handled by club president Amanda Howe. Howe took over duties as president after Stuck handed her the role in 2012.
Howe was holding a clipboard with a detailed itinerary of what was taking place. The job isn’t an easy one.
“She does a great job on organizing,” said Stuck. “I just sit back and watch games now.”
The club does more than just watch games together. Houston Patriots Fans has raised money for charities such as Best Buddies, MD Anderson, Rays of Hope, and the Jimmy Fund.
“We pick a different charity every year to support,” said Howe. “Sometimes two, which is the case this year. We are supporting the Best Buddies of Texas and the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation.”
In addition to fundraising, the group also participates in charitable 5k and 10k runs around the Houston area.
Still, the group is known for getting together as a collective group to cheer on their favorite team on game days.
“In previous years, we used to do push-ups when we score,” said O’Brien.
The group also chants after every Patriots’ first down, showcasing their devotion to the team they love.
Don Braga is maybe the club’s most loyal member. Braga is an Air Force veteran from Lowell, Massachusetts, and has been a Patriots fan since 1960, when they were the Boston Patriots.
“I rode a bus over to Harvard Stadium,” said Braga, painting the scene of his first time watching the Patriots in 1960.
These days Braga watches games at Diablo Loco with other members of the club, who he’s pleased to call his very good friends.
“When I moved down here, these people just treated me well,” said Braga. “They submitted me as the veteran of the group. I got a bunch of goodies from the Patriots.”
Tomorrow, Diablo Loco will be the hotspot for any Patriots fan in Houston who is not attending the game.
“We had 700 people at our last Super Bowl party,” said Howe. “We went from six members to 600 in 10 years, and we are all Super Bowl ready.”