The year 2020 has been a one-of-a-kind to say the least. COVID-19 restrictions are in place all across the globe. What used to be 80,000 screaming fans in football stadiums are now reduced to a fraction of live bodies who barely outnumber the cardboard cutouts.
Whether the pandemic brought forth this idea or if it was in the planning stages for years, the NFL decided to roll out their first-ever “Fan-of-the-Year” contest.
As a sports league, the NFL is always looking for fun and unique methods to bring a better fan experience. This new contest is just one of those brain-storming ideas that will highlight an otherwise trying year with NFL fans.
One person has been selected from each of the 32 NFL clubs.
The promotion was open from mid-August to mid-October. Entrants were nominated by other people, and then had to go through four phases before being announced for that one club’s representative and therefore labeled as a “finalist.”
The finalist for the Browns is Kendalyn Mackay. Or should we say Kendalyn Helbig since she was married on October 31, 2020. And yes, that was Halloween.
Kendalyn grew up in North Royalton and attended North Royalton High School. She is one of five children: Taylor, Jordan, Alex and Jake are her siblings. Her mom wanted to name her “Kendal” but her father wanted “Kendalyn” because he said “Kendal” reminded him of motor oil.
She is 27-years old and works as a dialysis tech at Fresenius Kidney Care in Cleveland.
“North Royalton is a tight-knit community supportive in the name of the Browns,” said Timothy Rudnick, President of the North Royalton Browns Backers chapter. “What you can expect from North Royalton are loyal, hard-working people. Our Browns are an important part of our lifestyle regardless of record.”
The North Royalton Browns Backers chapter was named “Chapter-of-the-Year” last season by Browns Backers Worldwide so they know a thing or two about community support. Rudnick stated that after winning, they held a huge party. Expect the same if Kendalyn is the NFL winner.
Kendalyn’s fiancé-now husband Eric was the person who nominated her. They are season ticket holders. Working as a dialysis tech in a pandemic environment, her job goes on regardless of whether the COVID-19 virus numbers are ascending or decreasing. Herself and her co-workers cannot fake a stomach ache and simply not show up for work. Being afraid for their own safety is not an option. Their patients need regular care and constant on-time treatments.
Despite the pandemic situation, Kendalyn still made her daily visits to patients in their homes. She took on extra shifts and even accepted hours on her days off when needed.
The process to represent the Browns wasn’t as easy as pulling a name out of a hat. There were over 35,000 submissions league-wise. To advance as a quarter-finalist and then a semi-finalist, each entrant was scored through three categories: 1) passion, enthusiasm, Fandom, 2) inspirational story, and 3) community spirit. Each club’s representative was selected by the franchise they represent.
Next up will be judging for three finalists who will then attend events surrounding Super Bowl LV in Tampa. Part of this process as a finalist are two tickets to the Super Bowl, two tickets to the NFL Experience, round-trip airfare for two, four days/three nights hotel accommodations, plus two tickets to NFL Honors.
The Grand Prize Winner will then be selected from the three finalists and crowned “NFL Fan-of-the-Year” during the Super Bowl.
Dawgs By Nature wanted to get to know the Browns’ first-ever “Fan-of-the-Year” contestant and find out what Kendalyn would do if she was GM for a day, how she is handling being around at-risk patients during this pandemic, and what is up with a tattoo that says “There’s always next year.”
DBN: Did you play any sports in high school, or any after-school functions?
Kendalyn: Softball throughout high school, but played multiple different types of sports growing up.
DBN: What can you tell us about North Royalton?
Kendalyn: I didn’t realize North Royalton was so special until I grew older and recognized the type of people living there. The stories you hear from neighbors and people you meet out and about. I noticed that a lot of the people who live in North Royalton now, would never imagine they could live there when they were younger. Meaning, you meet a lot of people who maybe didn’t come from a whole lot. But throughout their lives hard work and determination got them where they are now. North Royalton isn’t very big, doesn’t have a mall, not a ton of jobs, no real draw to it from a social stand point. So, the majority of people who live here didn’t just stumble across the city – they were drawn in by family or friends. Or it’s a good location to get to downtown in a reasonable time. Basically the people you’ll find in North Royalton are hardworking, family-loving, and very grateful for what they have. Which is basically what Cleveland is all about.
DBN: Did you watch football with your dad?
Kendalyn: Honestly, my dad was never the biggest sports fan. We would watch the Browns together from time-to-time, but it was not a regular thing. My love for the game actually came from my mom. My whole life she was a Miami Dolphins fan and loved watching them play whenever she could. She still loves the Dolphins to this day – which I get to make fun of her for weekly.
DBN: You are in the medical field. How did you get interested in this as a career path?
Kendalyn: I’ve always been interested in working in the medical field growing up – ever since I was a kid. My oldest sister is also a dialysis technician and helped me discover my lifelong career.
DBN: How did you become a Browns fan?
Kendalyn: I was born and raised in Cleveland. I am obligated to support my home team no matter where we stand in our rankings. I always had my Browns hats and gloves to wear.
DBN: Growing up, who were your favorite players, and why?
Kendalyn: Josh Cribbs because he’s pure electricity. Joe Thomas because he’s an outsider but he embraces and represents Cleveland to the fullest. Tim Couch because I remember how popular he was growing up.
DBN: How did you meet your husband?
Kendalyn: Facebook right after we graduated high school. Eric actually messaged me first the summer after graduation. Him and I both attended North Royalton High School and were in the same grade, but somehow we never had a class together or had ever met. Our first meeting I remember he dressed up nice and came to my house to pick me up in his dad’s pickup truck. We just went to the mall and kinda walked around. I could tell he was nervous, and I know now he made up an excuse to end the date early (haha). He said his dad needed his truck back home so he had to drop me off and go home. Much later on in our relationship he told me how he made that up because he was nervous and wanted to leave. Although our first date wasn’t a huge success I still invited him out to a Halloween party the next weekend where we had our first kiss.
DBN: Was it a requirement that he was – or would become – a Browns fan?
Kendalyn: No, I supported who he supported. But of course it is a bonus that we both support and represent Cleveland.
DBN: Do you have any Browns collectibles?
Kendalyn: Browns helmet, bobble heads, custom jerseys. We just received the full-sized helmet, an OBJ bobble head, and the custom jerseys when I was recognized for the “Hats Off to our Heroes” program! Eric is the one more into collectibles than I am, but I’ll count them as mine now that we’re married. He has a Joe Thomas full-sized autographed helmet, Ozzie Newsome mini helmet, countless jerseys for Baker Mayfield, Tim Couch, Johnny Manziel, Isaiah Crowell, and Terrelle Pryor.
DBN: How many live Browns games have you been to, and have you traveled to other cities to watch them play?
Kendalyn: Too many to count. Eric and I are season ticket holders. I don’t remember the exact section but if I had to guess I’d say 538 – way up high and almost behind the end zone. We have three seats. We share them with two friends and kinda shuffle around based on who can make it or not. Unfortunately, we’ve only traveled to Pittsburgh for away games. First time was without Eric around 2009. Most recently was in 2016 and I got in an elevator with Dwayne Bowe at the hotel, but I never said anything. Also saw Gary Barnidge as he was walking into the hotel. I told him to score some points for me since I got him on my fantasy team. He just said okay and kept walking. Eric is great when it comes to traveling and I know he’d like to travel more as we get older so we can both see different stadiums. I would guess Cincinnati is next on our list! The most expensive away ticket would have to be the one from 2009. My friend’s Aunt took me and my friend to the game and she paid for the tickets. I don’t know the cost, but the seats were nice so I’d assume they were expensive. All the other times we have just got them from scalpers and never paid more than $100 a piece.
DBN: Have you ever been down to the Dawg Pound?
Kendalyn: We weren’t able to make it down in the Dawg Pound this year because of how COVID has things set up. But my husband taught me a little trick he learned and we basically sit down in the Dawg Pound every game. We just use our season tickets to get us in the stadium, but I’ll keep his trick to get us in the Dawg Pound to ourselves. I will say though for a disclaimer that we have never stolen someone’s seat or been asked to move or leave. Just a little loophole we discovered, and last year against the Bengals we even got to the fourth row.
DBN: Bernie Kosar or Baker Mayfield – and why?
Kendalyn: My dad says Bernie Kosar. I say Baker Mayfield because I was too young when Bernie played so I don’t remember him much. But I’m sure he was an amazing player.
DBN: If you could invite one current Browns players over to eat dinner, who would that be, what would you cook, and what should he bring?
Kendalyn: Jarvis Landry. I would cook jambalaya so he feels like he’s home, and request he bring his homemade favorite family dish.
DBN: You were recently married. Please don’t say your colors were orange and brown.
Kendalyn: Our colors were black and purple. Our favorite colors and it went perfectly with our wedding being on Halloween. No, I did not even think of that to be honest – and nobody brought that to our attention. Now, black and yellow might be a different story.
DBN: How did you get involved in the NFL “Fan-of-the-Year” competition?
Kendalyn: Eric nominated me for the “Hats Off to our Heroes” program. I found out on my honeymoon two weeks ago from today that the Browns selected me to represent their team.
DBN: This is first year of the “Fan-of-the-Year” contest. The Browns currently have the longest losing drought in the NFL going on 17 years. How cool would it be for you to become the very first winner of this contest, and should that count as busting that drought for the franchise?
Kendalyn: I had no idea there was a “Fan-of-the-Year” contest. To know that I won the first year is something I would have never thought would happen to me and would feel unimaginable. As much as I would like it to count breaking the Browns’ losing streak, it doesn’t but I’m confident the Browns will end it themselves this year.
DBN: How did you find out that you had been nominated as the Browns representative, and who was the first person you told?
Kendalyn: I found out while I was in Hawaii on my honeymoon. Eric was obviously the first person I told and I cried. I was overwhelmed with joy. Eric and I were in our hotel room getting ready to go out for dinner. I had a missed call and it was from Brian Gross who handles our season tickets account. I didn’t know who it was but Eric recognized the name and we assumed the call had something to do with renewing our membership. I called him back and he told me I had been nominated as the “Browns Fan-of-the-Year” award. I immediately assumed it was an error and that he was talking about the “Hats off to our Heroes” program. I explained to him that we had already been contacted about that, but thanks again! He then clarified that no, this was something totally different that was being put on by the NFL. I couldn’t believe it. Brian explained there’s a possibility of going to the Super Bowl, and then Eric and I gave each other this look that could not be done again. We were confused, excited, shocked – in disbelief. Immediately after getting off the phone we both started calling friends and family with excitement. Obviously, everyone was so happy for us but I don’t think we really realized how big of a deal this was right away. Finding out on our honeymoon was so special and just took us to a whole new level of happy. This is something we will be able to tell our children and our children could tell their children. Although the Browns were on a bye that week we still put on our custom jerseys and headed down to dinner at our fancy resort. We stuck out like a sore thumb but that’s just part of being a Browns’ fan.
DBN: Your job has been affected by COVID-19 and is on the front line. This is sorta like a hurricane is coming and while everyone else is leaving town for safety, medical, law enforcement and safety personnel must remain. So far, have you questioned your life decision or take it in stride?
Kendalyn: I am beyond blessed and so grateful to have the job that I have. Through Hell and high-water, I am dedicated to my job and my patients and they always come first.
DBN: What do you see as the end game to this epidemic, and in the meantime, what are the best things people should be doing every day?
Kendalyn: I’m not sure what the end game to this pandemic is. I would say in the meantime to practice social distancing, wash your hands, wear your mask, avoid people who are more vulnerable, and take care of your mental health.
DBN: You have been known to not only work later hours, but have come in on your off days to help patients when other staffers have called in. Why do you feel that is your responsibility? Wouldn’t it be easier to just to not work as much and avoid situations that may affect your own health?
Kendalyn: It is my responsibility as well as my duty to provide Holistic care to my patients. This is their lifeline. Yes, it absolutely would be easier to fake a stomachache or other illness; but I have been on the other side of this situation where people have called off on me and it is not easy to do double the work even though it must be done. I am not a selfish person and would hate if that happened to me – so I wouldn’t do that to them.
DBN: If you win this contest what will you do with the winnings, and can we borrow some money?
Kendalyn: I don’t even know how I would react if I won because it would be such a major life-changing event. It’s hard to prepare for situations like that. Yes, you can borrow some money, but you have to pay it back LOL.
DBN: Name three fav current Browns players, and why?
Kendalyn: Baker Mayfield: he’s the face and the future of the Browns. Myles Garrett: he is a gentle giant who knows how to play. Even though he is really in touch with himself he gets the job done on the field. And let’s be honest – how could you not like someone who smashes a helmet over a Steelers player’s head LOL? Nick Chubb: he is a class act and a team player. What’s not to love about him?
DBN: If you could become the General Manager of the Browns for one day and whatever you dictated became reality, what changes would you make?
Kendalyn: I would sign Myles Garrett, Nick Chubb and Baker Mayfield to lifetime contracts with the Browns.
DBN: What is your fondest memory of being a Cleveland Browns fan?
Kendalyn: Going to a Browns vs. Steelers game when it was snowing so hard and we were freezing our butts off. And even though we lost the game and felt like we had frostbite, it was still such a fun game to attend watching us play against our rivals.
DBN: When was the moment that you realized that you were a Cleveland Browns fan forever?
Kendalyn: That is a tough question because there’s so many awesome moments I’ve had being a Browns fan. They all kind of build-up over time and lock you in as a fan. But I think the real answer comes not from a good memory – but a bad one. I think I speak for all Browns’ fans when I say we hit rock bottom after going 1-15 followed by 0-16. My husband even got a tattoo of a skeleton in a Browns’ shirt with the text “There’s always next year” because he felt like he’d being saying that till he was in his grave. Although we hit rock bottom and the temptation to join another team’s fan base was there, we didn’t give up. At the start of the 2018 season the hype was back and the Browns fans were right back in it as if we didn’t just go 1-31 over the last two years. And that’s when I can say I knew I’d be a Browns fan for life. If I made it through going 1-31 with this team, I could make it through anything.