From JSC Features...
Flag feud: McBrine continues to deny any participation
by Johannes T. Ragin
On Jan. 26, 1997, after the Green Bay Packers clinched Super Bowl XXXI, New England Patriots fan John McBrine swiped a Packers flag from his friend, Green Bay fan Steve VanderArk, at a Super Bowl party in Houston. The act of thievery sparked an interesting feud between the two Houston-area friends and NASA employees.
“I always knew it was John. He was the only Patriots fan with a bad attitude at our Super Bowl party that year,” said Steve VanderArk, manager of the Behavioral Health and Performance Section of the Space and Life Sciences Directorate. “However, for nearly eight years, he denied having any knowledge of my flag’s whereabouts.”
McBrine, who works for the Human Space Flight Program – Russia in Moscow, took the banner on a business trip to Russia the next day. In an effort to tease VanderArk, McBrine took pictures of the flag throughout the country.
After others who posed with the flag learned that McBrine planned to taunt a friend with the pictures, they offered to take the flag on their trips and add to the story.
“I knew multiple people were involved, and once or twice a year I would send an accusatory e-mail to a large distribution asking them to return my flag,” VanderArk said. “Over the years I would accidentally hear a few details or see photos of where the flag had been, but I never knew for sure all the places it had visited. Overall, it was an amazing team effort to keep it going.”
Over the last seven years, the flag’s amazing journey has included a running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, and stops at the Great Wall of China and the pyramids of Egypt. Not only has the flag traveled all over the world, it has traveled around the world onboard Space Shuttle flights STS-86, STS-106 and STS-113, as well as the Russian space station Mir and the International Space Station.
STS-86 crewmembers pose with the infamous flag.
“It started out fairly small, with the intent to photograph the flag with friends in Star City,” said Lesley Lee, section manager in Space and Life Sciences for Wyle Laboratories. Lee said that the idea grew from there until it included sending the flag into orbit.
“Sending the flag into space was particularly important, since Steve and his group play an important role in coordinating crew care and support packages for long-duration crewmembers,” Lee said. “Everyone involved seemed to have a good time with it, and though several ‘leaks’ occurred over the years -- which included Steve seeing the flag in a photo at the Mission Control Center in Moscow behind George Abbey and Dan Goldin -- it was fun to keep Steve guessing.”
World famous dignitaries such as Nelson Mandela and national recording artists and celebrities have also posed with the flag, adding to its notoriety.
At last, the flag reached Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., where the Packers took possession of it before its final trip home. The Packers brought the flag with them to Houston, where its journey would finally end at the Nov. 21 game versus the Houston Texans.
The shameless feud between friends came to its end at the start of the game. VanderArk, who was not exactly sure what had happened to his flag that infamous 1997 Super Bowl Sunday, had it presented back to him before the game along with McBrine’s scrapbook depicting the banner’s incredible travels.
“The scrapbook they presented to me at the game is great. It’s nice to see my flag has been many places I’ll never be,” VanderArk said.
With the return of the Packers flag, one has to wonder whether or not McBrine will face retaliation from VanderArk after almost eight years of grief. VanderArk claims, however, that he is not too upset. Some would say that he came out on top: not only did he get his tattered flag back, but he even acquired a photo of Brett Farvre with the flag and had Packers’ Kicker Ryan Longwell present the flag to him during the pre-game warm-ups.
McBrine remains defiant even to this day.
“All I know is that the Patriots have won two Super Bowls in the last three years, and are likely to win another this year. What happened seven years ago doesn’t really concern me. But for Steve’s sake, I hope that the return of this article of cloth will bring him some closure so that he can stop living in the past.”