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January 28, 2008

N.H. resident is Patriots' 'Ultimate' fan

NASHUA - If you're wondering what happened to the pregame balls the Patriots tossed around during warm-ups before their playoff win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, you can ask Randy Pierce.

Why? Because he has one.

It's sitting atop his living room couch. He didn't win it in a lottery, either. Lonie Paxton, the Patriots long snapper, walked over and gave it to him before the game.

You see, Pierce, whose nickname is "Zip," has a little history with the home team, as reflected on the walls of his living room. Pictures of Patriots players in action at Foxboro are mounted alongside team jerseys and plaques.

Then there's the trophy - a weighty bronze job called the Joseph R. Mastrangelo Memorial Trophy, which Tedi Bruschi presented to Pierce when he was named Fan of the Year in 2001.

That honor led the Nashua resident on a free trip to the Super Bowl and gave him a taste of celebrity. He also got a plaque in the fans wing at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Pierce is the official NFL Ultimate Pats Fan. He's even included in a snow globe of a famous Patriots moment when Bruschi threw snow on the field. All that's missing is his guide dog, a golden retriever named Ostend, who sat by Pierce's side, wearing her own Pats jersey.

After Ostend died, it took Pierce a little while to let another guide dog, Quinn, slip into that jersey. But Quinn, the 3-year-old yellow Lab, has earned his Patriots colors now.

Pierce lost his sight after college due to an optic nerve condition. Ironically, Bruschi and Pierce now share some life experiences, as well as attitudes about overcoming adversity.

Bruschi suffered a stroke but got back in the game and wrote a book, "Never Give Up." Pierce also has spent some time in a wheelchair after his optic nerve problem progressed. He's now a motivational speaker who says overcoming adversity is "pretty simple once you take the first step."

Pierce has met a lot of the players by going to training camp. He doesn't go for the whole week anymore because of his eyesight and because the place has turned into "a madhouse."

He considers Bruschi a friend for being there for both Pierce's parents after they suffered strokes. The player spent time with Pierce's father, helping convince him to keep working at his recovery after a massive stroke, Pierce said.

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