When the 2012 NFL season opens on Sept. 5 with the hosting the Dallas Cowboys at Met Life Stadium, Fair Lawn resident Stuart Pace will be one of 32 lucky fans -- one for each NFL team -- in attendance on the NFL's dime.
Pace learned last week that the Miami Dolphins flag design he submitted in June for the league's inaugural Fan Flag Challenge had been selected as a grand prize winner. Winners of the contest, which asked football fans to create an original design for their favorite team's flag, have their designs used as a guideline to create the team's actual flag, which Pace will carry during the NFL's opening night Kickoff Ceremony at Rockefeller Center in New York City.
Pace, who entered the contest on a whim after receiving an email about it earlier this summer, said he was caught completely off guard when he got word of his flag's selection.
"I forgot that I even entered [the contest] until I got the phone call," said Pace, a diehard Miami Dolphins fan with a tattoo to prove it. "My wife’s like, 'The NFL's on the phone.'"
As the Dolphins' representative, Pace will not only have his flag created, but he and a guest will also receive a two-night stay at the New York Marriott Marquis, the opportunity to participate in the NFL's Kickoff activities at Rockefeller Center and VIP tickets to the opening night Giants-Cowboys game.
"I'm happy as hell," Pace said of the opportunity. "I live for the Dolphins. It’s what I love and to now represent them -- I’m the only guy that’s going to represent them in the first ever fan flag challenge."
Pace's flag design, which he described in words but did not visually illustrate in his winning submission, depicts the Miami skyline in sunset with a palm tree on either side in Dolphins' aqua and coral. The giant aqua and coral silhouette of a quarterback poised in a throwing motion sits atop the city skyline with the word "Tradition" and the Dolphins' old logo printed below.
"With [head coach Joe] Philbin, a brand new regime coming in, he reminds me a little of a young Don Shula," Pace said, explaining the inspiration behind his design. "I think he’s smart, I think he’s disciplined, as opposed to all the other guys we’ve had, and I just felt like it’s time to return to the championship days of when we actually won Super Bowls."
A lifelong New Jersey resident, Pace owes his Miami Dolphins fanhood to a childhood fascination with the television show "Flipper."
"[At Dolphins' games], they used to put Flipper in the end zone and when a ball was kicked through the uprights, Flipper would go get it.," he explained. "So, Flipper got me to Miami and I love the colors and the actual dolphins on the logo."
Although he has high hopes for the future of the new-look Fins under Philbin and ultra-talented rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Pace thinks this year will be spent rebuilding.
"We have no wide receivers for Tannehill to throw to, but I love Tannehill," said Pace, who, for years, has filmed a comedic NFL talk show with pal Steve Brown. "I’m so excited about having a quarterback for once."
Beginning next week, Pace, Brown and resident Rich Seibel will all be participating in the second season of , a weekly fantasy football column that runs Thursdays on Patch before the weekend's NFL games.