HOUSTON — It’s 1,840 miles — or a 28 hour drive without stopping — from Gillette Stadium. But for Texas residents who refuse to support the Houston Texans or Dallas Cowboys, and transplants from New England and beyond, it feels just like home.
Diablo Loco, a sports bar on the outskirts of downtown, is home base for “Houston Patriots Fans,” a club that’s recognized by the Super Bowl-winning franchise as the official go-to for all-things Patriots related.
Just consider it “Foxborough South,” said Josh Samples, the group’s vice president.
“It’s a place for people to have a safe haven, or a home to watch the games, amongst like-minded people,” he said of the group and the bar where they congregate. “I’d say it’s definitely a family — everyone takes care of everybody else.”
Houston Patriots Fans — or Patriots Fans of Houston —was founded in 2006 by six former New England residents who were looking to connect with other supporters in the Lone Star state.
“They started watching the Patriots games together, and then it suddenly blew up from there,” said Samples, who is originally from Worcester. “They moved to a couple different venues because they outgrew them, and now for three years we’ve been at Diablo Loco.”
Chris Stuck, who moved to Houston from West Springfield in 1999 to attend college, and then stayed, was the club’s original founder.
“I kind of randomly walked into a sports bar for lunch on a Sunday, and bumped into a table of five Patriots fans who knew each other and were sitting together,” he said. “We hung out, and they said, ‘Hey, this is cool, let’s keep this up.”
In 2007, more and more people joined them, Stuck said, and things snowballed from there.
“We have just continued to grow every year since then, to the point now that we have hundreds of people who come out to watch the games with us,” he said. “I have met some of my best friends who I’ve got in Houston from this fan club.”
Amanda Howe, the group’s president, said this year’s Super Bowl is both significant and special because it brings their shared passion to the “mothership.”
“There’s a sense of validation for our fans in having the game here, and an opportunity to show the depth of their appreciation for the team and for New England,” she said in an e-mail. “People are often surprised that Houston has such passionate fans, but it’s places like ours that are so geographically and culturally distant from New England where the fire burns hottest. If there is indeed a Patriots nation, Houston is one of its most prominent cities.”
On Saturday, the group is hosting a charity rally party at Diablo Loco. It’s billed as the “biggest Patriots Fan Super Bowl event in Houston.”
The group plans to welcome a deluge of New Englanders visiting for Super Bowl weekend to the party, which begins after the official Patriots fan rally at Super Bowl Live, downtown.
“We have sold already over 300 tickets,” said Stuck.
The group has received several top-ticket items from Patriots officials, whom they have a close relationship with, that will be auctioned off at the fan club’s gathering.
The money raised from the items, which includes a signed Tom Brady jersey, and proceeds from ticket sales will benefit Best Buddies of Texas and the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation.
Houston Patriots Fans raises money year-round for other causes, an effort that Stuck said is an important part of why the group exists.
After a crazy night of partying, to wish the team luck in the Super Bowl, the group will meet again on Sunday.
“Saturday is going to be insane,” said Samples. “We will get all psyched up for the game, then come back the next morning hungover, and do it all over.”