HARWICH/FOXBOROUGH ─ When Rick Glasheen of Harwich initially signed up to be a designated driver at Gillette Stadium, he admits that he was initially in it for the free cola. But with 14 years of his own sobriety behind him, the commitment means something more now. Recently, it earned Glasheen some serious recognition when his name was drawn as the Designated Driver of the Season.
Glasheen was chosen for the honor from among fans who signed up during New England Patriots home games and took the HERO Pledge to be a designated driver. The pledge is part of the ongoing HERO campaign, established by the family of Navy Ensign John Elliott of New Jersey who was killed in a collision with a drunk driver shortly after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy.
This season saw 22,466 designated driver pledges by Pats fans, with Glasheen chosen as the lucky winner of an on-field recognition ceremony, commemorative football, and the chance to meet Robert Kraft.
Glasheen, who has been a season ticket holder for more than 20 years, said when he first got the call about the honor he was skeptical.
“I thought I was being punked by somebody,” Glasheen said. “Honestly, something like this never happens to me. I thanked her for the call and kind of stood there looking at the phone.”
A few minutes later the program representative called back to confirm details, at which point Glasheen understood it wasn't a joke.
“I guess at that point I realized it was for real,” he said.
On Jan. 14, prior to kickoff in the divisional playoff game between New England and the Texans, Glasheen was escorted onto the field where he joined a host of team dignitaries. Robert Kraft presented him with a commemorative football emblazoned with his name, and for a few shining moments, Glasheen delighted in the view from the turf.
“I've been going to games for 20-something years and had never had that experience before,” he said. “I felt like a little kid before Christmas. As an adult I don't think I've been quite that excited in kind of a giddy sort of way. To get down on the field like that was a fantastic experience.”
The uniqueness of the situation isn't lost on Glasheen, either.
“When I first got this call I was struck by the irony of it all. That someone like me with my history would get this kind of recognition,” he said. “But I was really grateful as a longtime season ticket holder, longtime fan to have the chance. It affords me a chance to make an amends of sorts. I really didn't do it looking for any recognition. I was just doing it to get a Pepsi to go with my hotdog.”
Glasheen said the campaign has more meaning for him now that he's committed to his own sobriety.
“It's something that I feel pretty strongly about,” he said. “When I go to the games, at the concession area the customer service desk has a little sign-up sheet where I put down my name and phone number as a designated driver, a supporter of the John Elliott campaign. Every game that I would go to I would put my name down, and they give you a Pepsi and a wristband saying you're a designated driver. It's an opportunity to show some support for the campaign, and I get a free Pepsi out of the deal.”
Though he has yet to drive anyone home, he continues to make himself available should the need arise.
Meanwhile, he's proudly displaying his football, and hopes that being recognized inspires more people, and possibly even local businesses, to become part of the HERO campaign.
“I'd like to think I'll bring some awareness to the campaign,” he said. “You don't have to drive yourself. Be a designated driver or call someone.”