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.
Pierce, who played football, studied the game, and operates the longest-running Patriots fan Web site, said being a fan is about enjoying every step of the journey.
"I do not believe you measure fandom by what you have on your wall," he said. He has been rooting for the Pats since 1976, when he was 10. He loves the way football brings people together. The victories are sweeter when they're shared, he said, and the defeats easier to bear.
After going through the bad times and good ones with the Patriots, he never thought things could get better than winning the AFC Championship in 1996.
Then he was named Fan of the Year. And when he thought that couldn't be topped, the Patriots went to the Super Bowl, and he got a free trip with the team.
"I pretty much thought I was somewhere in a coma," Pierce said. He figured things couldn't get any better, but the Patriots did it this year.
No professional team in any sport has ever gone 18-0, he said. And if the Patriots win the Super Bowl on Sunday, he said, it's going to take some time for the accomplishment to sink in.