Kristi Brown was sitting in a Tampa Bay conference room during Super Bowl weekend when she heard a loud knock at the door.
It was David Baker, president and chief executive officer of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, preparing to tell the Peoria resident that she was named Ford Hall of Fans Class of 2021.
Brown was a finalist for the Ford Hall of Fans Class of 2021, along with Las Vegas Raiders fan Wayne Mabry and Cleveland Browns follower Ray Prisby. The Ford Hall of Fans, which launched two years ago, is located at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
This year’s competition had a twist: All three finalists, as voted for by the public, were named to the Ford Hall of Fans Class of 2021.
“They had shocked us so much,” said Brown, who grew up in Glendale. “I heard a big bang at the door, and David Baker’s at the front door. I had no words. I was staring at a legend. I didn’t know what to say. I was screaming a lot.”
Brown has been an Arizona Cardinals fan since she was 3 years old, when she sat in the blistering heat at Sun Devil Stadium.
There was just something she couldn’t resist about the tackles and the Hail Mary passes. She also couldn’t help but be impassioned by the cheerleaders.
“I waved at the cheerleaders, and one of them waved back,” Brown said. “I was sold after that.”
Brown is a second-generation season ticket holder and devoted Cardinals training camp attendee. After her son was diagnosed with Chiari malformation, Brown has worked hard to raise awareness to help find a cure for the condition. Chiari malformation is a condition in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal.
Brown learned of her nomination from Cardinals legend and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Aeneas Williams.
“I heard about the contest, but you never think you’re good enough to get to a certain point like that,” Brown said. “Just getting to show my love of my team to others is great. If I can make one person a Cardinals fan, that’s my goal.”
Brown is passionate about the game. She doesn’t paint her face or “get crazy about it.” She said she just has such a love in her heart for the team.
“I feel like they’re a member of my family,” said Brown, a former cheerleader. “My family raised me as a Cardinals fan. I’m raising my two boys as Cardinals fans. I love the organization for what they do on and off the field.
“When I went to the first game when I was 3 years old, I saw the cheerleaders and I was so inspired. When the cheerleader waved back at me, that’s when I decided I had to cheer. I followed my dream and auditioned a lot. I made it in 2010.”
A labor and delivery nurse, Brown is just as impressed about what the players and the organization do off the field as well. As a cheerleader, she took part in community events, so she had a behind-the-scenes look at what they did.
“They have Play 360. They build fields for kids. Kids have to be active and follow their dreams. They’re super active with Phoenix Children’s Hospital. It’s great,” she said.
Brown’s favorite player is Larry Fitzgerald for what he does on and off the field. As a matter of fact, she named her 11-year-old Labrador retriever Larry Fitz.
“Larry Fitzgerald is the face of the team, in our opinion,” Brown said. “He encompasses everything in sports. He’s wonderful on and off the field. He’s inspirational. He gives back to the community. He’s just amazing.”
Now, she’s just as excited about the Cardinals’ latest acquisition, J.J. Watt.
“Oh, my gosh,” she said. “I work the nightshift. I sleep during the day, and my phone was dinging like crazy. I thought it was an emergency. I looked at 11:30 in the morning — which is my middle of the night — and I could not get back to bed because I was so excited.
“I can’t wait for the season. He is such a class act — on and off the field. I can’t wait to just have him impact our community. He’s so wonderful.”
She’s hoping Watt can help the Cardinals take a trip to the Super Bowl — and have just as much fun as she did in February.
“It was so amazing,” she said. “The whole weekend from start to finish was just a dream. It was inspiring. It was everything. I want to relive it all over again.”
Brown’s display at the Ford Hall of Fans will remain up indefinitely, much to her surprise.
“I’m always going to have a place in the Hall of Fame,” she said. “I feel so honored to represent Arizona. Arizona was so great to back me and support me. The Cardinals organization pushed for final votes. I feel so honored. In August, the first week is when we’ll go to Canton, Ohio, for enshrinement week. We’ll get a Hall of Fame jacket and take part in enshrinement festivities.”
Nothing compares to Super Bowl weekend, however.
“My cheeks hurt so bad after the trip from smiling so much,” Brown said.