Last Friday, I wrote a story about the origin of Boston sports nicknames, and that story led me down a path that led me down another path that stranded me in the middle of one of the greatest mysteries of our time.
If you didn’t read the original, you can do that over here.
If you did, you know that the mystery began to unfold as I was researching how the Patriots became the Patriots, and came across this paragraph on Wikipedia:
“The history of the New England Patriots began when Boston business executive William ‘Billy’ Sullivan and Sullivan Brother Printers, owned by Joseph Sullivan, were awarded the eighth and final franchise of the developing American Football League on November 16, 1959. The following winter, locals submitted thousands of ideas for the Boston football team's official name. Sullivan chose ‘Boston Patriots,’ which was suggested by 74 fans, among them Larry Kepnes.”
Right away, I wondered: “Who’s Larry Kepnes?”
At the very least, a historic Patriots fan. One of the 74 originals. But why was he the only one mentioned by name?
So I went to Google, assuming the answer was as easy as typing “Larry Kepnes Patriots” — but that wasn’t the case. Instead, the only results for “Larry Kepnes Patriots” were from blogs across the Internet, in posts about the origin of the Patriots name, and each in case the “Larry Kepnes” reference was lifted straight from Wikipedia.
“Sullivan chose ‘Boston Patriots,’ which was suggested by 74 fans, among them Larry Kepnes.”
With no additional insight into who he was, or why he deserved special mention among the 73 other sports fans that suggested the “Patriots” as a name.
Next, I tried “Lawrence Kepnes Patriots” and there were only two results.
The first was a list of people who had donated money to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston in 2012, in honor of Myra Kraft.
The other was to a 2012 newsletter from Hebron Academy, a boarding school in Maine. Lawrence Kepnes was listed as a 1943 graduate.
In a search for just “Lawrence Kepnes”, I found a 1940 census record for a man named Morris Kepnes, then 39 years old, who lived in Chelsea with his wife and their 14-year-old son, Lawrence.
I found a site ancestry site entitled “Descendants of Samuel Kepnes” that also connected a Morris Kepnes to a son named Lawrence, who lived in Massachusetts.
I googled “Lawrence Kepnes MA” and I got a phone number.
I called, and a woman picked up the phone. I asked if Lawrence was available, and she asked who was calling. I told her who I was, how I had come across his name, and why I was interested in speaking with him.
"Well, why don’t you send over your questions in the mail?” she said.
“E-mail, or the real mail?” I said.
“Real mail,” she said, and then hung up.
And that was that.
That’s where the story ended on Friday. Since then, a few people (thanks, Mom!) have reached out, interested to hear what happened next.
So, here’s what happened next.
And I swear this is true. What had already become a sort of weird story took a turn to straight up freaky.
Instead of going the ‘real mail’ route, I decided to reach out to Kepnes’ children. The “Descendants of Samuel Kepnes” page told me that he had three. The oldest was a son named Steven. So, I started there. Google.
The first hit took me to a Facebook page that hadn’t been updated since October 2012.
Well, what if I told you that this October 2012 update was a shared link to a WEEI.com story entitled:
“Mayo misses practice with elbow/illness. 12 limited”
So, I took a closer look at his profile and here comes the crazy . . .
I noticed that Steven Kepnes, the man I believed to be the son of “among them, Larry Kepnes”, is a professor at Colgate University. This is strange because I went to Colgate University.
I take another look at his profile photo, put two and two and I think six together, and it hits me.
He was one of my professors.
I took his class.
Now please take a second, one giant step back, and consider how insane this is and how confusing it was in the moment.
LARRY KEPNES’ SON WAS MY COLLEGE PROFESSOR.
I literally had to stand up, and started pacing around my apartment — excited, but also freaking out a little bit. Could this be a joke? A dream?
Then I sat back down and wrote Professor Kepnes an e-mail.
I was sure that he wouldn’t remember me. It was more of a lecture than a class. Still I wrote to him, explaining who I was and the weird trail that had led me to him.
He wrote back right away —
“Hi Rich. Yes, Larry Kepnes is my Dad!! And the story is true. We got two season tickets to the first season and then had tickets for years. I went to all the early games which were held in places like BU Stadium, Fenway Park, Harvard Stadium, not really NFL venues.”
He went on to say that never in their wildest dreams did he and his father imagine that the Patriots would become the team that they are now. And that to this day, they’re both totally crazy Pats fans.
Unfortunately, he also said that Larry isn’t well, and probably won’t be able to talk to me.
Steven is in Israel for the month, and we’re going to speak again when he returns. Hopefully to learn more about Larry, that naming contest and the fact that, as far as the Internet is concerned, Larry Kepnes is the only one of the those 74 original voters with an identity.
As far as I’m concerned, that makes him the original Patriots fan.
And that’s all for now. I’ll catch up with Steven when he’s back in the states. Until then, I want to wish nothing but the best to Larry Kepnes and the entire Kepnes family.
Keep them in your thoughts.
Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine