In the new sports comedy 80 for Brady, four longtime friends—and diehard New England Patriots fans—take a whirlwind trip to the 2017 Super Bowl to see their idol Tom Brady battle it out against the Atlanta Falcons.
The women at the center of the story are played by four icons in their own right: Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, and Sally Field. But in real life, it was a group of five dedicated friends who made up the “Over 80 for Brady” fan club that inspired the movie, in theaters Feb. 3.
For years, the club consisted of Betty Pensavalle, Elaine St. Martin, Anita Riccio, Pat Marx, and Claire Boardman. Pensavalle, whose grandson Max originally pitched the idea for the movie, says she and St. Martin began getting together for Patriots game days after their husbands passed away. “We started watching together, Elaine and me,” she says. “Then we added Anita then we added Claire and Pat. We were good friends. We had known each other for years and we were all widows.”
Today, Pensavalle and St. Martin are 94 and 95 years old, respectively, and have been friends for 72 years. Boardman passed away last year, and Riccio and Marx now live in an assisted living facility. But the memories of the years the group spent watching football together remain a bright spot for both Pensavalle and St. Martin. “The camaraderie was wonderful,” Pensavalle says. “We laughed and yelled a lot. We watched on my patio and I’m sure the neighbors heard us even though it’s enclosed. We had a lot of fun.”
Read more: 80 for Brady May Not Be a Masterpiece. But the World Needs Movies Like This
Football Sundays became a grand occasion for the group and, as St. Martin says, gave them all “something to look forward to every week from September thru February.”
“The girls all came for the 1 o’clock game,” Pensavalle says. “They would get here at 12:30, we would get settled, and we would start watching. They brought hors d’oeuvres and, later in the game, we’d have wine or Bloody Marys.”
Brady became an additional draw for the friends when he took over as the Patriots’ quarterback after Drew Bledsoe was injured early in the 2001-02 season. “We liked Bledsoe but now Tom was the quarterback and he was our guy,” Pensavalle says.
The Patriots would go on to win the Super Bowl that season and, with Brady at the helm, would win five more over the course of the next 15 years. One of those, of course, was the infamous 2017 Super Bowl depicted in 80 for Brady. The game saw Brady mount the greatest Super Bowl comeback in NFL history, beating the Falcons 34-28 in overtime despite trailing 28-3 late in the third quarter.
“I loved watching Tom from the beginning,” St. Martin says. “Even when the Patriots were behind we never lost hope. We knew he could pull out a miracle, as he did in many games, especially the Super Bowl against the Atlanta Falcons.”
In 2006, following Brady’s third Super Bowl win with the Patriots, Pensavalle says her grandson Ben designed “Over 80 for Brady” t-shirts and had them made for the group. “We wore them at every game,” she says. “All of my grandchildren knew about the group and would call during the games to talk about how the Patriots were doing…[My grandson] Max kiddingly said one Sunday when his family was visiting, ‘Nannie, this would make a cute movie. You all have so much fun.'”
Then, in 2020, Pensavalle received a personalized video message from Brady himself telling her he wanted to turn the “Over 80 for Brady” crew’s story into a movie. 80 for Brady is the first movie from Tom Brady’s new production company, 199 Productions.
In real life, the “Over 80 for Brady” fan club never made it to a Super Bowl like their Hollywood counterparts. But that doesn’t matter so much to Pensavalle and St. Martin, who say they never expected this kind of notoriety at their age.
“Though the movie is about four friends going to the Super Bowl, the main thing you need to take away from this is that having good friends is very precious,” St. Martin says. “Even at 95, I can say, ‘Life is short. Too short for arguments and holding grudges. Be kind to others and kindness will find you.’ Betty and I have been friends for 72 years with never a harsh word.”
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