DANVERS — St. John's Prep prides itself on being one big family.
Because of that strong bond, Houston Texans head coach Billy O'Brien (SJP Class of 1989) made a nice donation to his alma mater in the form of two tickets to Super Bowl LI, which will be held at NRG Stadium in Houston this coming Sunday. The Prep held a raffle for the Super Bowl ducats, selling 200 tickets for $500 apiece, with donations benefiting the new Wellness Center that is currently under construction. As luck would have it, one of O'Brien's former football teammates' names was drawn.
Kevin Dwan, a star running back who led the Eagles to the state Super Bowl as a senior in 1991 before matriculating to Harvard, was a freshman when O'Brien was a senior. at St. John's. When Dwan received notice he was the winner, he immediately called his former coach, Jim O'Leary, to invite him to go to the Super Bowl with him.
Dwan made plans to fly to Houston from his home in Singapore, and arranged for O'Leary to meet him in Houston Saturday night. The tickets, which have a face value of $2,500 each, are prime sideline location spots on the lower level in the first row of Section 124, which is around the 25-30 yard line.
"I happened to be in a three-hour meeting the day the winner was drawn and didn't have my cell phone," said O'Leary, who coached both Dwan and O'Brien at St. John's. "By the time I got out of it, Kevin had a round trip, non-refundable flight for me.
"He booked the hotel rooms and had every thing arranged. Singapore time is 13 hours ahead of us, so when he couldn't reach me right away he called my daughter Emily. She couldn't get me either, so he called her brother Michael, and by the time I found out about it everything was all set. Kevin and I have remained close throughout the years, and it's a wonderful thing for him to do."
Two years ago when the Patriots played the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona, Dwan wanted to take his former coach along to watch the game from his corporate box. O'Leary — the godfather to one of Dwan's two daughters — declined, saying he would watch it at home.
But this time, there was no backing out. Dwan will take a 25-hour flight to Houston while O'Leary's trip will take five hours with the same arrival time around 5 p.m..
"Kevin knows me too well," laughed O'Leary, who will come home the day after the Super Bowl. "This will be my first (Super Bowl) and I'm excited.
"I texted Billy this morning to tell him I was coming with Kevin. I'm not sure he'll be there, but if he's around I'm sure we'll get together. He's so busy during the season, but we talk occasionally in the offseason and whenever he's in Boston, he'll stop by the school. Sometimes he'll come to a basketball game with his kids and slip into the stands quietly to watch.
"Our seats are in a great location; even better than being behind the bench. I get to see Lady Gaga, too (during the halftime show). I'm looking forward to the Super Bowl, and am glad the Patriots are playing."
Each summer, Dwan brings his family home to spend five weeks at his summer home on the water in Nahant and has a chance to get together with his old friends.
"I talked to Kevin earlier this morning, and he was concerned about where we would have dinner Saturday night," said O'Leary. "I told him I didn't care if we ate at McDonald's.
"It's so nice that Billy and Kevin never forgot where they came from. Billy has done a nice job for the Texans. They've got a great defense and are just a quarterback away (from being elite). He's a regular guy, and so is (Patriots head coach) Bill Belichick. He's a lot different than what you see at his press conferences. Through Billy I've had the opportunity to meet and talk to Belichick a number of times."
O'Brien came back to his alma mater this past summer to talk to a gathering of former Prep players at head coach Brian St. Pierre's Friends of Prep Football Night and answered questions. He is very happy in Houston.
O'Leary is predicting a high-scoring game with the outcome possibly determined by turnovers.
"Being an old football coach, I know how those turnovers came affect the outcome," he said. "Take care of the ball; that's so important. Atlanta has a lot of first or second-year players, and there is so much pressure on everybody at such a big event. Veterans like (Tom) Brady and Belichick know how to handle that pressure, but for the young guys that first time can be intimidating. (Falcons quarterback and ex-Boston College star) Matt Ryan is very much like Brady, but without that experience.
I think the Patriots are the better team, but I'd feel better with Gronk (i.e., injured tight end Rob Gronkowski) there. I know Julio Jones will be a big target for Ryan."