Paul Vellano went to a lot of football games this season.
Of the New England Patriots’ 22 games, Vellano made it to 16. But as the Patriots stepped onto on Colorado turf Sunday, challenging the Broncos for a Super Bowl slot, Vellano sat at the Centre Street Pub in Schenectady.
One slider and half a beer sat forgotten on the bar as Vellano watched padded behemoths stampeding across one of the many large TV screens.
“It’s his rookie year,” Paul said. “My son Joe. Number 72.”
During ad breaks, Vellano recounted a day back in April when his son Joe, then a University of Maryland senior, watched player after player get called up in the NFL draft — but his own name never was called.
“It was disappointing,” he said, “He worked hard.”
The 300-pound defensive tackle signed on as an undrafted free agent with the Patriots, playing so well at training camp and in exhibition games that he made the regular team. Then five-time All-Pro Vince Wilfork ripped his Achilles tendon and Vellano saw some real action.
“He has 57 tackles,” Paul said. “That’s not bad for a rookie. If they win today, he’ll play in the Super Bowl. Some players go their whole life and don’t get there.”
Sunday afternoon, the Center Street Pub was full of Patriots fans. Joe’s uncle Joe Vellano, who called himself “the original Joe,” was on hand in a Vellano jersey with a handful of other family members.
Between plays, friends slapped Paul on the back. Union College football coach John Audino watched the game with what can only be described as mild envy.
“I tried to draft Joe,” he said.
Actually, he tried to draft both Joe and his older brother Paul Jr. as they each graduated from the Christian Brothers Academy, but they both got away.
“That’s a football family,” he said. “I played against Paul Sr. when we were both in high school. He was good.”
As for Joe, Audino said he “has a good motor” and will likely get more play in the years to come. He had to raise his voice over shouted commentary from elsewhere in the pub.
Much of the shouting came from a single booth containing a sizable portion of the Keegan family, some spilling out into chairs on the pub floor.
Kat Keegan said they’ve known the Vellanos for many years.
“We love Joe,” she said. “We went to Baltimore for the Ravens game. He was taking pictures with everyone afterward.”
But the Keegans were Patriots fans long before Vellano signed on. Mike Keegan, the patriarch, brought his loyalty with him from Boston when he moved to the area.
“He taught us the love,” Kat said.
The Patriots didn’t win Sunday. The Broncos took them out, 26-16. It was a big disappointment for local fans, but Paul Vellano didn’t really watch the game anyway.
“I watch Joe,” he said. “I watch his legwork. Sometimes I don’t even know where the ball is.”