It’s the empty promise all football fans make at one point or another. But when Cindy Smith heard her brother Tim Greenleaf say the words, she knew he meant them.

“He was home at Christmas time, and he said, ‘If the Patriots go to the Super Bowl, we’re getting tickets,'” Smith said. “I knew when he said it, if the Patriots were there, we would be there.”

Greenleaf sounded serious, and then he proved that he was. The West Gardiner native and Hawaii resident went to work and secured six tickets, and he will be going as part of a group that includes West Gardiner couples Kim and Todd Johnson and Smith and her husband, Vaughn.

They’ll experience — and deal with — everything, including red-eye flights, multiple layovers, congested traffic and heavy crowds. But they’ll be there in person Sunday at Houston’s NRG Stadium, present to watch the New England Patriots play the Atlanta Falcons in pursuit of their fifth Super Bowl title.

And as any Patriots fan in their position would be, they can’t wait.

“Tim is just making four bucket lists, right here,” said Todd, 53, an independent contractor for Bill Gordon Transportation. “It’s just unbelievable. It’s a dream come true.”

“It was my sister’s 50th birthday, and this is what she really wanted to do,” said Tim, who operates Greenleaf Woodworks in Kapolei. “So we’re doing it.”

The idea was born two years ago, when Tim, Cindy and Vaughn went to see the Patriots play the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium in December 2014. The experience stirred something in Tim, and after the Patriots ended up beating the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX that February, he became committed to seeing his favorite team play on the biggest stage were it to get the chance again.

“We went to the game in 2014, that got him thinking about it, maybe,” said Vaughn, 52, a teacher in School Administrative District 11, the local school district. “And then he really started talking about it last year.”

The idea from the start involved Cindy and Kim, across-the-street neighbors who have been best friends since fifth grade, and their spouses. Last season fell through, as New England lost to Denver in the AFC championship game. But the Patriots punched their Super Bowl ticket this time with a win over Pittsburgh in the AFC title game, and the plans started anew.

“He said ‘If they go, I’ll get tickets.’ And we’re like, ‘We’re on you, Tim,'” said Kim, 50, a paralegal for Portland-based Federle Law. “Believe me, I have never had so many texts and phone calls to Hawaii as I’ve had in the last 48 hours.”

It wasn’t easy. Tickets aren’t cheap, and with hundreds of thousands of fans vying for them, they’re not easy to find. Tim had his own ordeals, as he appeared to have tickets lined up, only for Pay Pal to alert him that the sale was a scam.

“Dealing with that, and trying to get the rooms, because we waited until the last minute, it was extremely difficult,” he said.

As the days wore on, the four in West Gardiner knew they were running out of time.

“We said ‘We’re done. At noon on Monday, if we don’t have tickets, count us out,'” Kim said. “So we were out.”

Until Tim called back and said he had secured four tickets through Florida-based Captain Ticket. Several hours later, he called again at midnight and told Kim he had two more tickets for her and Todd.

“Unbelievable. I still can’t believe it,” Kim said. “I tried to wake (Todd) up and tell him. He didn’t believe me.”

Getting there will be tough. The Johnsons and Smiths leave Portland on Friday at 5 p.m., headed for Charlotte. Then Miami. Then, finally, Houston, at 8 a.m. Saturday, where there will be some time to take in the city’s nightlife — provided they have the energy to last the night.

“We really haven’t figured that part out,” Todd said, laughing. “We’re flying by the seat of our pants, basically.”

On Sunday, it’s off to the game — early. Kickoff is at 6:30 Eastern time, but there are crowds to beat, and, by Todd’s estimation, two hours of traffic to work through.

“They say you’ve got to get there early afternoon, at the latest,” Vaughn said. “You’ve got to start making your way to the stadium sometime late Sunday morning.”

The four shrug off the flight and traffic details, however, because they know what will be waiting for them — a stadium packed with fans buzzing to watch the biggest game of the year, and their favorite team on the field in front of them, ready to play in it.

“Seeing the energy of the people,” Vaughn said, when asked what part of the experience he was most looking forward to. “You know that this is not just another game. This is the pinnacle.”

“When we went to the game two years ago, the energy at Gillette was just amazing,” said Cindy, 50, a nurse at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick. “I anticipate that this will be 10 times, 20 times that.”

They’re the most prized tickets in sports, and as word has spread that they have them, the Smiths and Johnsons have dealt with the reactions. Vaughn said a co-worker of his cried when she heard that he was going. And Todd joked that he’s become a marked man in town.

“I kind of know what it feels like to be hated on,” he said. “I go to Gardiner basketball games and I won the 50/50 (raffle) in two out of three games. People started hating on me, and the next thing you know, people find out I’m going to the Super Bowl and they’re hating on me even more. I’m like ‘Jeez, I’m sorry!'”

They understand the envy, be it real or feigned. But they also know that there’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience ahead of them — a “bucket list” item, as Kim called it.

“It really won’t sink in until you walk into that stadium,” Vaughn said. “And you go, ‘You’re here. This is really happening.'”

After that, it’s getting ready for a 9:45 p.m. flight that follows the same route back into Maine by 1:45 Tuesday afternoon. It’s a plan that becomes a lot easier should the Patriots win, and it would cap off what has been deemed all season as a crusade against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“I want to see Tom Brady finish this,” Cindy said, to the approval of the others.

If he does, they’ll be in the right place to see it.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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