At least two NFL players looking to win Super Bowl 55 this Sunday can say they have connections to central Minnesota.
Tom Brady, six-time Super Bowl champion, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback, still visits nearby Clarissa and Browerville, just 25 miles down state Highway 71 from Wadena. It’s the place his mom, Galynn, was raised by Bernice and Gordon Johnson on a dairy farm. Brady said in the past he even took a turn at milking cows on a particular visit.
Joe Haeg, who is about to have his first Super Bowl appearance, also with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the offensive line, has connections to Wadena thanks to his mother Janet (Hegarty) Haeg, who was raised in Wadena and graduated from Wadena High School in 1982. Janet’s father, Kenneth Hegarty, was a standout athlete himself, starting the Golden Gloves boxing program in Wadena in the 1950s. Kenneth even has connections to Browerville, where he graduated from high school.
What are the chances that Haeg’s family and Brady’s family would have connections to small-town Browerville, Minn., with population 901? Let’s just say, the Minnesota Vikings almost have a better chance of winning the Super Bowl. Almost.
Heading to the Super Bowl
Janet and her husband Rick have reason to be excited beyond their son heading to the Super Bowl. Their daughter Laura is also expecting to give birth to the first grandchild in the family.
“This is all pretty exciting,” Janet recently said before heading to Tampa Bay to watch the Buccaneers face Kansas City for the NFL title. “Because of COVID, this will be the first time we’ve seen Joe play a game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay. We’re excited to go, but Laura won’t be able to travel to watch her brother since she will be 38 weeks pregnant.”
Laura will join the almost 100 million people expected to watch the 55th annual Super Bowl on television. Joe’s uncle, Jim Hegarty, of Wadena, also plans to gather with some family to watch the big game.
“It’s not every day your nephew gets to play in the Super Bowl,” said Jim, who is now retired.
Jim went from being a lifetime Vikings fan to an Indianapolis Colts fan for four years and on the day Joe signed with the Buccaneers, proudly started cheering for Joe’s new team.
Many others won’t be able to attend the game because of COVID-19. The Buccaneers, who are the first NFL team to host a Super Bowl in their home stadium, will only be allowed 22,000 fans, or 33% of stadium capacity.
But Janet and Rick, along with Haeg's girlfriend, Nichole Gervanek, will be among the crowd to watch Haeg, a 27-year-old tackle who joined Tampa Bay this season after playing four years with the Colts.
“We’ve been to quite a few of Joe’s games when he played with Indianapolis,” Janet said. “We saw Joe play against Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City’s quarterback). He’s amazing to watch. The Chiefs will be a tough opponent in the Super Bowl.”
Jim recalls watching his nephew grow up. He was always known as Little Joe until Jim made a stop at Joe’s graduation party where Little Joe had become a 6 foot 6 inch young man, surpassing Jim who stands at 6 foot 1 inch.
“It was kind of shocking,” Jim recalls.
Haeg, a 2011 Brainerd High School graduate who earned All-American football honors at North Dakota State University in Fargo, was drafted by Indianapolis in 2016. He signed with Tampa Bay before this season, and has been part of a rotation on the offensive line. He’s often used in running situations and for blocking on field goals and extra points.
“Joe normally lines up at tackle and is an eligible receiver,” Janet said. “So it was neat to hear his name announced as an eligible receiver in Lambeau Field when he came into the game.
“This is all hard to put into words - thinking about Joe playing in a Super Bowl with Tom Brady, who has won six Super Bowls. I still remember Joe playing football in our backyard with his Nisswa Elementary School friends,” Janet said.
Joe has been fortunate to make it through five seasons in the NFL and sharing the center stage with Tom Brady, he has a chance to make NFL history. The family is very proud of him and says he’s done the hard work to get to this place and is deserving of the stage.
Jim will no doubt be cheering on Joe every step of the game, and win or lose, he says he’ll enjoy the game.
Want to watch?
If you're looking to see these two locals battle for the championship, it airs at 5:30 p.m. Central on CBS.