UMass alum Seth Koenig navigates Patriots fandom in Afghanistan

  • UMass alum Seth Koenig poses in a New England Patriots jersey in front of billboard in Afghanistan. COURTESY SETH KOENIG

  • UMass alum Seth Koenig poses in a New England Patriots jersey in front of billboard in Afghanistan. COURTESY SETH KOENIG

Published: 2/3/2017 10:08:15 PM

For many games this season, Seth Koenig tried to take the responsible route.

If he stays up late or gets up early to watch the Patriots games, he’ll be tired throughout Monday and his work would suffer.

But the lifelong rabid fan of the New England NFL franchise can’t sleep knowing the game is on.

So he’ll toss and turn and look at his phone to check the score every 15 minutes or so.

This is the challenge of being a Patriots fan in Kabul, Afghanistan, where Koenig, a 37-year-old UMass alum and former Recorder sports writer, works as a public affairs officer in the Navy Reserve. He’s part of a media task force with resolute support mission.

Stateside, he lives in West Durham, Maine, works for the Bangor Daily News and is a yell-at-the-television passionate Patriots fan. But since July, he’s been on active duty.

With Kabul 9.5 hours ahead, to yell at the TV for the Super Bowl, he’ll have to get up early Monday morning to catch the Patriots and Falcons, who kickoff at 6:30 p.m. EST, and 4 a.m. in Kabul.

Koenig is luckier than most deployed servicemen. He has a TV with Armed Forces cable in his room and his office. But the time difference makes watching most games unrealistic.

“You just can’t do that. You won’t have enough energy for the day,” he said. “Because I’m such a crazy Patriots fan, if I know the Patriots are playing, what ends up happening is that I can’t sleep when I know that they’re playing. I can’t handle being totally out of the loop so I’ll wake up every hour or 45 minutes and frantically start looking for a score update on my smart phone. If they’re losing it causes me to be angry as I’m going back to sleep.”

On Tuesday he was still considering not getting up for the Super Bowl. But he was leaning toward an early morning.

“I’ll be frantically checking my phone for updates so I might as well just turn it on and watch it,” he said. “I know I’m going to be a basket case.”

There will be a Super Bowl party on base at the USO, but a recent Public Policy Poll revealed that the Patriots are the NFL’s most hated franchise, and the Americans Koenig works with reflect that poll. Watching the game among people vehemently rooting against his team didn’t sound appealing.

“Americans who aren’t from New England tend to be quite hateful toward the Patriots and I don’t have the patience for that,” he said. “I don’t want that extra level of stress.”

It won’t just be Americans at the USO. His unit is NATO affiliated and as Koenig found out, Austrians love the NFL.

“They’re much more interested in American football than any other sport. They’ve had a American team allegiances. One guy that was here was a huge Packers fans. He had a Packers jersey and would get up to watch Packers playoff games.”

For obvious reasons, Koenig didn’t pack his replica blue Tom Brady jersey when he left for Kabul. But he felt like something was missing not wearing something during games.

With so many American contractors and military personnel in the Afghan capital, there’s money to be made by peddlers with American goods.

One local merchant sold gear from American sports teams. Most of it was outdated players and numbers, or jersey styles. But Koenig bought a Rob Gronkowski jersey that he’s pressed into duty for most Sundays since September. He’ll wear it even if he’s sleeping (of trying to be) during the games.

“They’re usually a couple years behind in terms of who the stars are. It may be old and probably a knock-off, but I have something,” he said. “I need to have some sort of Patriots gear on when the game is happening even if I wear it to bed.”

Koenig, who is married with two sons in elementary school, is eager to get back to his family. His return stateside is vaguely scheduled for spring. For now, following the Patriots is a cherished connection to home and a Super Bowl victory would help make the time pass a little quicker.

“If the Patriots win I’ll be on cloud nine for several weeks,” he said.

Note: Koenig is a former Gazette intern and longtime friend of the writer.

Matt Vautour can be reached at Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at

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