The NFL is proud to announce the 32 #FanOfTheYear nominees who spice up the game while serving as positive and inspirational influences within their communities through the love of football. Visit nfl.com/fanotheyear today to discover their stories and vote for your favorite nominee.
ST. PAUL – "Which one is Shirley?" Adam Thielen asked.
"Oh, you'll know," responded Shirley's supervisor.
She was right.
As Thielen entered the courtyard of a local hospital, where numerous nurses and employees had gathered, it immediately became clear who the Vikings superfan was.
Shirley Bowden gasped when she saw Thielen, then placed her hands on her face in disbelief as the Vikings receiver walked directly toward her.
"Are you Shirley?" Thielen asked with a smile. "Congratulations – You're the 2022 Minnesota Vikings Fan of the Year!"
Overcome with emotion, Bowden cried as she received a personalized Vikings jersey and a hug from one of her favorite players.
But the surprises weren't over.
"Not only that," Thielen told her, "but you're going to the Super Bowl!"
Bowden's jaw dropped as she was handed two oversized replica tickets for Super Bowl LVII, a hallmark of the Fan of the Year program presented by Captain Morgan.
"You'll be in it, right?"
"We sure hope so," Thielen responded, smiling and offering another hug.
"She was a little lost for words. You can tell she's a big fan, so very deserving," Thielen told Vikings.com following the surprise. "It's always fun to interact with the fans. Obviously I was one of them at one point, so it's cool to see how passionate she is.
"I was in that position, hoping that I could meet Randy Moss or Cris Carter," the Minnesota native added. "So to be in that position is very cool. I'm glad I got to present her to the award – and to do it in-person and meet her. It's obvious how much she loves the Vikings."
View photos of Vikings WR Adam Thielen who helped surprise the Vikings 2022 Fan of the Year, Shirley Bowden.
A lifelong fan, Bowden has been passionate about the Vikings since watching games as a young girl with her father.
She's a Minnesota native but from 1987 to 2003 relocated to Kingsland, Georgia with her husband, who served in the U.S. Navy. During that time, since the Vikings were part of the formerly known NFC Central division, Bowden every season drove to Tampa, Florida, when the Buccaneers hosted the Vikings.
"The Vikings were my connection to my Minnesota roots," Bowden said.
"When my husband said, 'Yes, we can move back to Minnesota' – before we got our house, before I got my job, we got our season tickets – so I knew for sure we'd go," she laughed.
A Vikings Season Ticket Member since 2003, Bowden emphasized her two rules: She never misses a game, and she's always positive.
"And I'm loud. Third down, if you look at my row, I'm standing up when the defense is out there – never an exception. I do tell the people behind me so I'm not rude," Bowden said. "I love it. It's almost a disease how much I love it.
"My family will say, 'Let's do something this Sunday.' I'm like, 'The Vikings are playing – priorities,' " she added with a laugh. "But I've got my whole family involved … my friends … it's passion. It's family."
One of those loved ones she's turned into a committed Vikings fan is Theresa McConnon, Bowden's friend of nearly 50 years.
"Back when Minnesota hosted [Super Bowl LII], she talked me into volunteering with her, so that's when I really started watching the game," McConnon said. "Since then, we text each other during the games and have a lot of fun.
"She's a Vikings groupie. She eats, sleeps and breathes the Vikings," McConnon added of Bowden.
McConnon explained that football is more than a sport for Bowden. Her Vikings fandom has gotten her through "a lot of rough times" in life, including the death of family members and an ovarian cancer diagnosis. A few weeks after undergoing surgery as part of her treatment, Bowden attended the Vikings Wild Card playoff game against the Seahawks at the University of Minnesota.
"I wanted to do something nice for Shirley. She's so giving. I mean, she's such a generous, kind person," McConnon said. "She always goes the extra mile for people. She's the best friend I've ever had. … I love her to death."
Bowden shares SKOL spirit with anyone and everyone.
At the hospital she's worked for nearly 20 years, Bowden decks out her office in Vikings memorabilia, hangs a Vikings sign on her door and has a good-natured competition with a Packers-fan coworker.
"We have a little battle going on, but I'm winning so far," the nurse case manager smiled.
Bowden typically schedules her days off for Mondays since she often loses her voice from cheering so loudly the day before.
"Some of my coworkers will say, 'Don't start talking football with her. Don't bring it up,' " she quipped.
"I'm still in shock. I'm in shock," Bowden added, looking down at the Fan of the Year jersey and Super Bowl tickets in her hands. "I can't think of anything better."
R.N. Care Management Supervisor Melissa Kuisle said Bowden "spreads Vikings joy" to not only her department but to the entire hospital.
"Win or lose, she's just always a Vikings fan. … Everybody knows that about her and loves that about her," Kuisle said. "When we got the call that she was selected for Fan of the Year, I called our other supervisor right away because we knew how much it was going to mean to her. We were like, 'Oh my gosh, she's gonna cry. She's gonna be so excited.' She wasn't expecting this at all.
"Shirley is a great preceptor and role model for her department, very well respected by our unit, our team, our providers – our whole organization," Kuisle added. "We're just happy to have her with our team."
Bowden calls herself a fan of every player and coach who's been a part of the Vikings franchise over the years.
But Thielen is certainly one of her favorites, she admits. Besides appreciating his story as the hometown kid rising from rookie tryout into the team's record book, Bowden also is grateful for the work Adam and Caitlin do through their Thielen Foundation.
"He's got a good heart," Bowden said. "One of the things I've been really impressed with – him and his wife, they're promoting mental health, and that's something that doesn't get enough attention. I thought that was fabulous."
As Minnesota sits at 7-1 and looks to record its seventh straight win this weekend in Buffalo, Bowden really does hope she's watching the Vikings when she attends the Super Bowl in Arizona this February.
"I expect them to be there. I do every year," she smiled. "I really, genuinely do."
Click here to vote for Shirley as the 2022 NFL Fan of the Year.