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Friday, Aug 17, 2018
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As Super Bowl nears, Largo man remains Patriotic as ever

LARGO — The lawn in front of Paul Shimkonis' house has a single, modest red-white-and-blue sign, neatly planted for all to see: THIS IS PATRIOTS COUNTRY.

Inside, however, is an absolute shrine.

As New England goes for another Super Bowl win on Sunday against the Eagles, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more concentrated collection of pure Patriots fandom than inside the "Bledsoe room," where Shimkonis has amassed 25 years of nearly everything you can put a Pats logo on.

"It's always big when they're in the Super Bowl," said Shimkonis, 58, wearing a "BEAT PHILLY!" shirt and a gray "TB12" Tom Brady ballcap. "Of course, if they win, oh my gosh, I've got to get all the stuff that goes with that."

There are endless Patriots trinkets, new and old: a Patriots Elf on the Shelf, a bobblehead from the 1960s, still pristine in its original cardboard box; a foam finger from 1985, unopened beers and sodas and Patriots-themed Santa and Mrs. Claus figurines.

There are hats and helmets, framed jerseys, Patriot gnomes, Patriot-clad Tasmanian Devils, Wheaties boxes, snow globes, Christmas ornaments, and a full circular rack of jerseys and shirts.

A pair of Brady socks just arrived this week, and only Wednesday, he went online and ordered all kinds of Super Bowl LII merchandise, with another wave sure to follow if the Patriots pull off the win Sunday.

"I really go after the Super Bowl stuff," said Shimkonis, who works as a physical therapist and once interned with the Bucs in the days of Vinny Testaverde. "Win or lose, I always get a ball, the Super Bowl program, mini-helmet, pins, shirts, hats, blah, blah, blah."

In particular, Shimkonis has a place in his heart for Drew Bledsoe, who quarterbacked the Patriots from 1993-2001, giving way to Brady and his five championships among seven Super Bowl appearances.

He has collected more than 300 autographed Bledsoe items, including more than 20,000 different Bledsoe football cards, some serially numbered, autographed and even with tiny multi-color swatches of game-used jerseys.

He has more than 2,000 Bledsoe rookie cards from 1993, nearly every version of every rookie, with his elusive white whale being a rare Wild Card "1000" stripe. He'll find it eventually.

Every inch of the walls is covered, including the Beckett Football Card Monthly magazine that profiled him in 2000 as their "Supercollector of the Year." He has game programs from the 1960s when games were played at Boston College, and a press pass from a Patriots game played at Fenway Park. He's never been to a Super Bowl, but has actual tickets from each of the ones the Patriots have played in.

He spent $450 to get Bledsoe's high school yearbook from Walla Walla, Wash., and he has a $250 bottle of wine from Bledsoe's winery, Doubleback. He spent $300 to get a huge banner that hung in the end zone during the Patriots' Super Bowl win against the Panthers. Many of the collectibles are irreplaceable, and he has a separate insurance policy to cover the room.

"My only regret when I built this is that I should have gone out another five feet," he said, having custom-designed the room when they built the house, moving locally from Seminole four years ago.

Shimkonis estimates he's been to 75 Patriots games in person, most as he grew up in Methuen, Mass., about a half-hour north of Boston. When New England played the Bucs in October for its first game in Tampa in 20 years, he was proudly in attendance.

He can remember his first Patriots memento — he got quarterback Steve Grogan's autograph on a ball in the 1970s. Back then, the football was more prized than the signature, so even though it was his "coolest possession," he and his friends played with the ball until the autograph had worn away.

"Back then, we didn't come home and put it in cases," he said. "We played with it."

He's thrown parties for past Patriots Super Bowls, but he will watch Sunday's game at home, with his wife, Erin — daughter Haley is now married and lives in Virginia — not wanting a crowd as he paces nervously during what seems to always be a close game.

"You'd think I'd be used to this, but no," he said. "Would you please get a big lead, for once? Really, it's stressful."

For all his Bledsoe autographs, he's never met him in person, never written to tell him about his enormous collection. How do you explain something so huge and so personal without scaring someone a bit, he wonders?

"I don't want to seem like a stalker," he said. "I'm just a guy. There's a lot of people that collect Drew Bledsoe to this day. It would be pretty cool. I've never gotten around to it. Hopefully, one day."

Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.

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