WHEN THE SECURITY GUARDS ARRIVED to eject them, the man and his wife were almost relieved. They quietly hustled up the stairs and out of Fenway Park on that day in 2007. Maybe, just maybe, nobody would ever know the culprit’s name.
Dan Kelly had done something really dumb — but something extremely hilarious. Something that has gone viral every Patriots’ Day for 15 straight years. Something that Boston sports fans revere like, well, Paul Revere.
Both Kellys were mortified that people would be able to identify them. Perhaps they’d joke around later with some close friends about it, but they wanted to take their ejection and run back off into anonymity. A decade-and-a-half of infamy later, Kelly laughs when he thinks back on the naivete of making a clean escape.
Kelly’s wife, Selina, was a high school teacher in Boston and didn’t need her students or fellow faculty members to recognize her. And Kelly himself had just started a new job where he thinks he got hired partially because he seemed like such a grown-up. During a lengthy interview process for the job as a medical supply sales rep, he choked down every urge to be his authentic self … which is, admittedly, a bit of a wiseass.
The bottled-up version of Dan Kelly got the job, and he needed it. Kelly had an engineering degree but he just didn’t love it as a profession, so he turned toward sales. He always enjoyed talking to people, and people seemed to enjoy talking to him. Kelly thought once he got the job, he could loosen up a little bit and deploy his more fun-loving side to sell prosthetics and other medical products to health care providers.
His wife is more straight-laced than Kelly, but that’s what makes them such a good match. He drags her 10% into the silly side of life, and he needs her to let him know when to stop screwing around.
It works for them. Their back-and-forths provide a little surge of electricity between the two. Like that time when his wife, who was born in Ireland, applied for membership in an Irish social club in Boston, and Kelly received the email confirmation that they both had been accepted.
But before she got home, he edited the letter to say that he had been accepted, and she would only be allowed to attend two gatherings per year, as long as she was escorted at all times by an official member such as Dan Kelly. She was livid and reamed out whoever picked up the phone at the social club … only to find out later about Dan’s Microsoft Word hijinks. “She should have divorced me a long time ago,” Kelly says. “We eventually had a good laugh about that one.”
And that’s how they feel now, looking back on that day in 2007 as they tried to flee Fenway. It just took a few years to fully embrace the fact that Dan Kelly was responsible for the greatest pizza throw in history.
ON APRIL 16, 2007, Kelly and his crew — his wife, plus five or six other friends — had planned where they’d pregame at 8 a.m. before heading over to the Red Sox-Angels game. Boston bars receive a special dispensation for Patriots’ Day to open early, and the lights are usually just coming on when packs of people like Dan Kelly line up outside.
Most years, the bars begin to empty out an hour before game time as thousands flock over to Fenway for a 10:05 a.m. or 11:05 a.m. start. But in 2007, rain was coming down and the tarp covered the field, so the majority of fans stayed camped out for an extra hour downing pints and shots during a rain delay that lasted more than two hours.
Around 11:45 a.m., the grounds crew had the field ready to go and players started to wander out of the clubhouse. Kelly and his gang paid their bar tab — about $600 — and headed for the stadium. They all had scattered seats around the stadium, but with about 30% of the crowd no-showing because of the rain, Kelly & Co. eventually settled into empty seats a half-hour later, about 10 rows back from the left-field line. Kelly immediately noticed that the crowd seemed to be more blasted than usual — and he was feeling especially warm and fuzzy.
Boston starter Josh Beckett threw the first pitch at 12:18 p.m., and by 1 p.m., the Sox were up 6-1. Beckett was dealing, so the air was wet and cold and all those warm and fuzzy fans started to get bored and hungry as a sure Sox win breezed along.
As the game entered the middle innings with Boston up big, Kelly’s group began to bicker with another pack of Sox fans 20 feet away. Kelly calls that group “boisterous,” and it should be stated for the record that the Kelly group sure sounded like it was pretty boisterous, too.
Around the sixth inning, Kelly and his friend, Matt Madore, ducked out to grab some food and more booze for the rest of their party.
But on his way up, Madore ate it on the steps, stumbling down to the pavement in a near faceplant. The other group started goofing on him for being drunk — “Which I was,” Madore says — and he scraped himself off the steps and kept moving.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get ’em,” Kelly promised as they reached the top of the stairs.
At the concession stand, Kelly asked for four slices, and the cashier said, “For another $4, we have a new deal this year where you can just get an entire pizza.”
Madore had won a March Madness pool by picking Florida to win the 2007 NCAA tournament and got his $800 in cash that morning. So he was basically lighting money on fire all day. He paid for the six beers and entire pizza himself … and it might be the most memorable $96 he has ever spent.
They lugged the pizza box back to their seats, and within minutes, the rival group was asking for a slice, threatening to alert security that Kelly had smuggled in an entire pizza. Kelly tried to bark back at the man, Jason Sole, that he didn’t sneak it in, that he bought it at the concession stand. But the two groups were just far enough apart, with people in between, that some of the barking back and forth got lost in translation. It was the “American Chopper” meme in real life — a bunch of dudes yelling over each other.
They kept chirping, and tension had reached a low boil by the time J.D. Drew stepped to the plate with two outs in the seventh inning. Drew fouled off a ball down the line. Angels left fielder Garret Anderson rushed over to make a play on it but it was just out of reach, bouncing directly into the other group, causing spilled beers and some confusion about whether the ump was going to call fan interference (he didn’t; the ball actually was into the stands). The ball ended up flying 30 feet onto the field, falling to the grass.
On the NESN broadcast, play-by-play announcer Don Orsillo worked through the replay as the late color commentator Jerry Remy’s tone went from steady to perplexed the more they watched. The beer had bounced everywhere on the play, and on the first pass through, Remy wondered out loud about what the mark on Sole’s shoulder is. At first, Remy guessed that it must be dirt, declaring that the poor guy was now covered in beer and mud.
But over the next three minutes, Orsillo and Remy launched a full deep dive into the situation, slowly losing their minds in laughter as they realized what actually happened. They cued up replay after replay, from various angles, and they quickly spotted a foreign object come skying in and drilling Sole near his neck.
It was not mud, they realized. Remy wondered at first if it was “some type of sub sandwich” as the camera went back to the next pitch. That could have been the end of it, and this story never happens.
But the announcers weren’t done. As Drew stood back in the batter’s box, Orsillo and Remy went back to the live crowd shot, where Sole was pointing his finger and yelling toward Kelly’s group. The NESN graphics crew slapped on a “Pepsi Fan of the Game” for Sole as he continued to rage.
“Well, he’s the Pepsi Fan of the Game until he gets thrown out,” Orsillo said, and that was the beginning of the end for the longtime Red Sox duo.
Remy began to giggle, and the laughing spread to Orsillo as he tried to announce that Drew went down swinging for the final out of the inning. It had become one of those “SNL” skits that is twice as funny because the actors are laughing so hard.
By the time the commercial break was over, Orsillo and Remy could barely speak. Remy tried to plow through a W.B. Mason-sponsored plug for the upcoming postgame show, but Orsillo’s giggles provided the soundtrack for more mayhem on the horizon. Remy had watched multiple replays during the break and was trying to choke down his analysis as the crew prepped for more replays.
Remy wound down on his read, and Orsillo jumped in. He said that the responsible party had been ejected and was walking out of the stadium at that very moment. As they went to the video again, Remy worked his way through one more slow-motion replay. Just as the camera showed the ball bouncing harmlessly to the ground and the beer landing on Sole and a buddy, Remy blurted out what would become one of his most infamous calls.
“Boom, here comes the pizza!”
AS DREW’S FOUL BALL headed toward his section, Kelly had just finished one slice and was reaching into the box for another. He watched as Sole and his friends all turned their attention toward trying to catch the foul ball in front of Anderson, and Kelly heard that voice in his head — the one that forges Irish social club rejection letters — say very clearly, “You wanted a slice of pizza? Well, here ya go!”
As required by Boston law, Madore hunched over to protect the beers, and Kelly covered him in case the ball landed near them. But he quickly realized the ball was hurtling just beyond them, directly into their rivals’ section. Kelly leaned down toward Madore’s ear and whispered, “Watch this.”
With the fresh slice in his hand, he uncorked a fastball toward his nemesis. It’s an incredible throw, better than anything Beckett unleashed that day. Kelly zipped it, more shot put style than a regular overhand throw, and the slice hurtled directly at Sole as he tried to catch the foul ball and beer splattered everywhere.
The slice flipped over once in the air but somehow maintained a straight line toward Sole, where it crash-landed onto his neck, splattering sauce in an almost perfect triangle mark. Off-camera, the pizza landed upside down on the railing by Anderson. The quick scramble at the perfect moment, the throw, the direct strike, the landing on the rail — the whole thing feels like a one-in-a-million chuck. How did he do it?
On a phone call from her office at MIT, Professor Peko Hosoi analyzes Kelly’s throw. She has wrapped a rubber band around a triangular-shaped notebook and attempts to re-create the whole thing. She walks back about 10 feet, picks out a target and tries to replicate Kelly’s throw.
She nails it on her first try. “Bull’s-eye,” she says, as the sound of a flying notebook clangs off the wall in the background.
But when she is told some of the exact circumstances — that Kelly was closer to 15 to 20 feet away, that the wind was 15 mph at Kelly’s back, that he had to grab the pizza and throw it in a span of just a second or two — she runs her experiment again. She starts talking about lift and drag, and she mentions Newton’s second law of motion, that force equals mass times acceleration, and she ultimately figures Kelly must have thrown the pizza at roughly 11 mph.
Now, for her official attempt under more exact conditions, she tosses the notebook and … no luck this time. She tries it a few more times before she finally hits one.
“Oh yeah, that was hard,” says Hosoi, a co-founder of the MIT Sports Lab who teaches engineering and mathematics. “I got some more fluttering action that time. That’s a tough throw. I’m not going to lie.”
Kelly had only one shot, and he connected on a direct strike. He watched the slice hit its target, then immediately pulled the same move every spitball shooting seventh-grader does. He darted his head away and frantically acted like he was looking for the jerk who threw that slice of pizza. But as the dust settled in the stands, it didn’t take long to figure out who the chucker was.
All eyes turned toward the guy who had been bickering for an hour with the victim, the guy with the entire pizza that seemed to be mysteriously missing one slice. Madore flamed the situation by making eye contact with the other group and feigning outrage.
“Where did that come from?” he yelled, hands raised in innocence. “Who did it? Who … threw … the pizza?!”
Kelly and Madore cackle to this day telling that part of the story, because it’s quintessential Bahstan Red Sawx troublemaker mockery. Security showed up and asked them to leave. Kelly and Madore pushed back, trying to plead their innocence, but the security guard was insistent.
“Why?” Madore asked, still faux-shrugging.
“Because you’re on national TV, you f—ing idiot,” the guard said.
Sole’s girlfriend, hood up over her head, scrubbed him down with napkins as Orsillo and Remy continued to cackle and break down the incident in real time. Sole cooled down pretty quickly, took a cellphone call and was shown laughing. He seemed to move on in the moment, and it seems like he also has since then — he did one brief interview right after the game, but didn’t respond to multiple attempts to reach him for this story.
Kelly thought maybe he’d never address the pizza chuck, either. And for an hour or two, it sure did seem like life might go back to normal without any repercussions. He and his wife plopped down at a bar a half-hour after getting the boot from Fenway, and they waited for the rest of their group to leave. Then he got a call from Madore to meet them at a different bar.
As soon as he and Selina walked in, they both stopped cold in the doorway. Every TV in the bar had the Red Sox postgame on it, and Orsillo and Remy were — again — falling apart trying to talk about the slice toss. Kelly still hoped to slink into the bar without anybody noticing it was him … until Madore yelled, “Here comes the Pizza Chucker!”
The entire room laughed and chanted “Pizza Chucker!” and Kelly didn’t have to buy any drinks for the next 20 minutes until he and his wife had to go to relieve their babysitter.
On the car ride home, both Kellys breathed a sigh of relief. It seemed like they’d escaped mostly unscathed. Nobody at the bar knew their actual names, and neither did the Red Sox announcers. Kelly texted everybody he could think of, especially his friends from the game, and asked them to keep his identity quiet.
But as his wife drove, he flipped on sports radio and heard the hosts discussing the incident in excited tones. They announced they had a special guest coming up: Matt Madore. The Kellys listened in horror as Madore talked about the buildup to the throw, then the chuck itself and its aftermath.
Finally, the host asked the dreaded question. “What’s the Pizza Chucker’s name?”
Kelly’s eyes got big waiting for the answer, hoping Madore would say he couldn’t reveal his friend’s identity.
Instead, Madore hesitated for a second, then blurted out, “Absolutely. His name is Danny Kelly!”
THE LEGEND OF THE FENWAY PIZZA CHUCKER had officially drifted out of Dan Kelly’s control. His phone began to chirp nonstop, so he turned it off. He later listened to voicemails from multiple pizza places about endorsing their products, and he decided to ignore them all. Deep down, Kelly thought maybe people might know his name but the whole thing might blow over.
It hasn’t blown over.
The calls kept piling up in the aftermath, and Kelly had no choice but to address it publicly. He did an interview or two, and he showed up at Fenway a few years later with a friend who had a sign that said he was there with the Fenway Pizza Chucker. NESN interviewed Kelly in the stands on the air, and for the first time, he seems to have realized he was going to have to lean into it. He smiled during the entire interview and said he wished he could apologize for being such a drunken goofball that day.
In that interview, and ever since, he tries to straddle the line between being apologetic and not taking the whole thing too seriously. “I do feel like it was a food fight sucker punch because I waited for the guy to be distracted, so I’m not too proud of that part,” Kelly says. “It was a total instinctive moment. It was my Will Smith moment.”
As he looks back on it all during a recent Zoom, Kelly sits in the middle of what he calls “Kelly’s Pub.” The entire room is stocked with Boston sports stuff, ranging from a Roger Clemens autographed ball to a picture of him with Larry Bird. Behind him on the wall hangs a long rectangular frame with seven pictures in it from the seven pro sports titles won by Boston sports teams from 2001 to 2011, titled “Decade of Dominance.”
At one point, he reaches back and grabs a personalized license plate he used to have on his car but got tired of paying to renew. It says ESRUC, and he takes great joy waiting as people stumble around trying to figure out what it means. “I wanted to think of something cool that nobody else thought of,” he says, before the big reveal. “Its curse, reversed.”
He’s trying to figure out which is his favorite item from Kelly’s Pub, and he eventually goes off camera and grabs a picture of his son and daughter at their first Red Sox game as a family.
But among all the items, all the pictures and jerseys and memorabilia, there’s no sign of anything commemorating what makes him a Fenway legend. Where’s the framed pizza slice? The ticket stub from that night? An artist rendition of the greatest throw in Fenway bleacher history? Anything? “I don’t want to be known as the idiot that threw the pizza,” he says.
And yet … he’s going to get calls for this, it’s the 15th anniversary, and probably also for the 20th and 25th. He is the Fenway Pizza Chucker, and he always will be. Kelly is just getting comfortable with that, and when he’s asked if he could hit a button and undo the whole thing, he hesitates for a few seconds.
“If you’d have asked me that 10 years ago I would have absolutely answered yes,” he says. “But today my absolute answer is no. I think it’s fun.”
He’s quiet for a moment, and you can see that the guy who alters Irish social club acceptance letters is about to enter the chat.
“I regret the whole thing,” Kelly says, and his voice lowers a bit. “But not really.”