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New Zealand's Most Deserving Fan just so happens to be an Eagles fan

Penieli Talataina-Ki
Penieli Talataina-Ki

Penieli Talataina-Ki was sitting in math class in his New Zealand school in 2004, when a friend sat down next to him decked out in Indianapolis Colts gear. The pair shared a growing interest in football, but thousands of miles and an ocean away from the nearest NFL stadium, Peni had no strong allegiance to a team.

He asked his friend for assistance choosing one to support – he had just two criteria.

1. The team had to have a Black quarterback.

2. The team had to be good on paper, but one that had never reached its full potential.

From there, they discussed possibilities at length, weighing the pros and cons of their options before making the final decision.

"He gave me a list of teams, I can't remember all of them. Philly just happened to be one," Peni said. "I remembered watching the Rocky films and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air with my dad, and I thought, 'I think I can root for the Eagles!'"

With Donovan McNabb as the quarterback and only a lone 1980 Super Bowl appearance in the history books, the Eagles were a match.

From there, his fandom was born, and it's only grown since.

Flash forward 20 years.

On Thursday, Peni touched down in the United States after a day of travel from New Zealand to Arizona with his wife.

He's going to Super Bowl LVII. It's a dream come true.

"It's been unbelievable. What are the chances of getting selected to go to the Super Bowl, then the Eagles going as well and that's the team I support! I'm pretty pumped, pretty excited, I can't wait. I just want to experience the whole thing," Peni said.

In November, his friend and colleague, Chris Withers, nominated him for the NFL's Most Deserving Fan competition.

The pair met at the Royal New Zealand Police College in 2021. Withers, a casual football fan, was sporting a black Eagles cap when Peni approached him beaming. He asked if he, too, was an Eagles fan. Their friendship has blossomed since.

When Peni's not working as a police officer, he spends his time giving back to his community. He leads weekly activities with the youth ministry at his church and volunteers with local children with disabilities.

Withers admires Peni's commitment to others, and when he saw the opportunity to recognize his friend's great character, he made it a priority to help him win the contest.

"I couldn't think of a more deserving guy," said Withers.

In January, they finally heard back. NFL Network's Scott Hanson invited them to a Zoom call that they believed was to let them know they'd made the shortlist. Instead, Hanson gave Peni news he thought he'd never hear. Peni was selected as New Zealand's most deserving fan. The award was a trip to Arizona for him and a guest to attend Super Bowl LVII!

"I was just speechless throughout the whole thing," Peni said.

"It was one of those things – I just shared the post online to see what would happen. You never really think that you'll ever win these competitions."

Eagles fandom runs deep in New Zealand

So, what's it like being an Eagles fan in New Zealand?

Peni explained it simply.

"It's one of those things – you just have to set your alarm, get up, and watch the game."

Peni typically gets out of bed around 5 AM on gameday – that's when he's able to stream the Eagles on NFL Game Pass. He doesn't want to miss a moment of the action, so he makes sure in advance that his work schedule won't interfere.

"Everyone at work knows that I'm pretty hardcore into my football, so they'll either allow me to do shift swaps or cover my shifts while I watch the game and whatnot," Peni said.

Before NFL Game Pass was introduced, it wasn't as easy to follow Eagles news closely as it is now. Peni recalls waiting patiently for YouTube highlights to be uploaded so he could watch the best plays of the game.

And before YouTube, he'd often race into school, loading the game's results on the desktop computers at the first moment he was able to, enduring painstakingly long moments while the score slowly appeared on the screen.

"We didn't even have the internet. I didn't have a computer at home, so it wasn't until I went to school that I'd be able to load the score," said Peni.

"My best friend, Rich, I've got to give him a huge shoutout. He's the one that had all the tech gear – I'd go over to his house, we'd play Madden, we'd watch some highlights on YouTube. It was just a lot of YouTube really back then," Peni said.

Sunday won't require an old computer or an early wake-up call (though Eagles fans will likely be sleepless in anticipation regardless.)

Peni will have a short commute to State Farm Stadium, where he'll watch the Eagles finally take the field.

Alongside him will be his wife – he says sharing the moment with her makes it that much more special. Football is a shared interest that brought them together.

"It's a real niche thing to enjoy football here in New Zealand. When I found out that she was kind of into it, that was kind of one of the things that kind of stood out in the conversation," said Peni, reflecting on meeting her.

She grew up a 49ers fan, and his team had to defeat hers in the NFC Championship Game to make it to Arizona. Rivalry aside, she's grown to appreciate her husband's affinity for the Eagles. During their honeymoon in New York in 2016, they even took a quick trip to Philadelphia on Amtrak to take a tour of Lincoln Financial Field together.

"When I won the ticket to go to the Super Bowl, I went and told my wife and shed a little tear," he said. "The first thing she said was, 'You didn't even shed a tear at our wedding!'"

The first purchase Peni ever made using his own money earned from working was a Midnight Green Brian Dawkins Jersey. It's his prized possession.

"Every time we play in a big game, it's the jersey that I always wear," Peni said. "It'll be the same jersey that I bring to the Super Bowl."

After decades of supporting the Eagles from afar, Peni will be in on all the action, wearing number 20, cheering on his favorite team.

Penieli Talataina-Ki attended the first Official International Watch Parties earlier this season when the Eagles beat the Houston Texans.
Penieli Talataina-Ki attended the first Official International Watch Parties earlier this season when the Eagles beat the Houston Texans.

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