Brien Bredthauer of Ord, Neb. -- population: 1,800 -- is nuts about his football team. Rabid. Crazier than a punt on first down.
His bedroom is one big pep rally, replete with the team bedspread, the team sheets, the team pillow cases and window shades. His walls are covered with photo plaques and posters of his favorite players. Commemorative footballs from the glory days rest on his shelves.
But you don't have to visit the Bredthauer's farm to get a grip on the profound passion of Paul and Rhonda's 18-year-old son. He wears it on his sleeve. If the weather's cold then Brien is donning his team jacket. If it's cool he's probably in one of three team sweatshirts. T-shirt weather? Now we're talking. Rhonda says he owns five of those.
The pick-up he drives has the team nickname stenciled across the windshield. He wore No. 12 on his high school team as tribute to his idol, the one he latched onto as a 5-year-old while tucked in a bean bag chair in front of the TV.
"I was little, and I just liked the uniforms," Brien recalled. "I said, 'That's my team.' It's been my team ever since."
Plenty of people in Nebraska are wild about their football, bleed Cornhusker red through and through. But Brien's not only one of a million, a Cornhusker fan, he's also one in a million, a Buffalo Bills fan who lives in Nebraska. And Sunday he'll be attending his first NFL game: Bills versus Jets at The Ralph.
"He's been a Bills fan for years," his father said by phone Wednesday. "Don't ask me how he started liking that team. He just happened to. He always has."
"He's caught a lot of flak, being from Nebraska," Rhonda said. "He's a very faithful fan. His uncle (Chipper) likes the Chiefs and gives him a lot of static."
Rhonda had begun inquiring last spring how she might obtain Bills tickets for Brien, who graduates from high school in the spring. It was going to be his senior year gift, but it's becoming more than they'd imagined.
Rhonda spoke with fellow Nebraskans Lou and Emily Hayek, who happen to be members in the 40th Anniversary Daytona 500 Pace Car Club of America, over which Paul Cwiklinski of East Aurora happens to preside. Members of the club drive advance laps at many of the Nextel Cup and Busch races. They raise money through sponsorships, steering some of it to charity.
Hayek told Cwiklinski about Brien, who's afflicted with cystic fibrosis, and asked if the car club could assist in getting him to a game. Cwiklinski, who had been seeking a new charity, adopted CF. The club purchased the tickets for Brien and his parents. Tony Rome's in East Aurora is helping out with a dinner. Other members of the car club chipped in, underwriting part of the cost for plane tickets and hotel accommodations. The Bredthauers are scheduled to touch down today, which will be a thrill in itself. Brien's never flown before.
He's been buzzing to get here, can't wait to step into the stadium where his hero, Jim Kelly, worked his magic. He has a Kelly photo plaque on his wall. Drew Bledsoe's, too. There are no memorabilia shops in Ord, but there's a good one in Omaha, and Brien's a regular whenever they make the 3 1/2 -hour drive to see the specialists who help him combat his disease.
"They recognize him as the Bills' fan as soon as he walks in," Rhonda said.
He's bringing a ball in hopes of landing some autographs. He's bringing the optimism of a dedicated fan, one undeterred by 2-5, encouraged by recent results.
"There have been some awful close games," Brien said. "Hopefully they can turn it around."
Sunday will tell a lot.
"It would be pretty sweet if they won," Brien said. "Especially if they beat the Jets."