Five women over 80.
Eighteen weeks of football.
It adds up to a story of great friendships and fandom that’s now a feature film: “80 for Brady,” starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Sally Field and Rita Moreno; it opens in theaters Feb. 3.
Elizabeth “Betty” Pensavalle, 94, is one of the five women whose devotion to the Greatest of All Time quarterback Tom Brady inspired the movie. Brady, whose production company is one of the film’s producers, and retired tight end Rob Gronkowski also appear in the film.
Pensavalle joined First UMC in North Attleboro, MA, in 1955. “When people ask me how long I’ve been a Methodist, I say, ‘I was a Methodist in the womb.’” Her parents and grandparents were Methodists, and like her were active in the church.
First UMC has been promoting the movie – and some of Pensavalle’s media appearances — on its Facebook page.
“The whole town is waiting for Feb. 3,” said friend Joan Hutson, who is also a member of First UMC. Pensavalle knows some family members and friends are planning to see it together.
The attention surrounding the movie has been “overwhelming,” Pensavalle said, (she’s letting her daughter field media calls these days) but it’s been a good experience.
“The whole thing is fun,” she said. “We had a wonderful interview with CBS Sunday Morning. They were in the kitchen, the hallway, the back rooms … We really enjoyed it. They took everything out of my living room except the piano … they put everything back.”
Pensavalle, Elaine St. Martin, Anita Riccio, Pat Marx, and Claire Boardman began watching games together more than a decade ago. Each week they would gather at each other’s homes to share some food and conversation.
“We were really a close group,” Pensavalle said. Some, like herself, were already football fans, others learned the game as they watched together while sharing family stories and food.
“They marched through that door with hors d'oeuvres, we sat on my patio or in the sitting room. It was a lot of laughs, a lot of yelling,” she said. “Those were the years the Patriots were winning everything.”
And the movie captures it, Pensavalle said: “That’s what it’s about: friendships between elderly women. Women can have fun – even in their 80s.”
Family members enjoyed watching the group watching the games. It was a friend of Pensavalle’s daughter who coined their name, saying “Well, they’re all over 80 for Brady.”
Pensavalle’s grandson, a graphic designer, had the T-shirts made in 2010. The shirts were mandatory for game day, Pensavalle said, though some would just “hold it up in front” of themselves.
About two and a half years ago, another grandson, Max Gross, who is an agent in Hollywood, pitched the idea for a film based on the Over 80 for Bradys. While they are the inspiration, events in the movie are fiction – they never went to the Super Bowl, for example.
“A few things in [the movie] we wouldn’t dream of doing …” Pensavalle said; pausing, she added: “Maybe we would if we were in our 80s again. We’re all in our 90s now.”
“I miss the girls,” she said. Boardman passed away and Riccio and Marx are in assisted living facilities, but Pensavalle hasn’t lost her enthusiasm for the game.
“I love football. I was brought up with football,” she said; her husband, son and grandsons all played. As for Brady, “He’s the GOAT – he’s good looking too.”
Brady and the Buccaneers ended the 2022 season with a loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the wild card playoff Jan. 16. The game didn’t start until 8:15 pm, but Pensavalle stayed up for the whole thing.
“I couldn’t sleep afterwards I was so upset,” Hutson said.
“Me too,” Pensavalle said. “I moved from the sitting room to my bed and still watched it. The next day, I thought I’m so glad I watched it. It might be his last game.”
Brady went to Tampa Bay in 2020, and Pensavalle makes it clear that she’s a Brady fan whose team is still the Patriots. For several years she and her late husband had season tickets.
These days she’s happy to watch on TV with plenty of snacks on hand — “popcorn, a sandwich, wings – lots of wings, love wings.” Watching from home is great, unless the Patriots and Buccaneers are playing at the same time: “that’s the worst part going back and forth with the buttons,” she said.
As for the movie, Pensavalle and St. Martin were invited to a special premiere; Hutson attended as well. The event included a filmed message from the stars thanking the Over 80 for Bradys for “showing that women can do anything and have great friendships.”
So which of the stars is Betty?
“I‘ve been known to be bossy and I’ve been known to be feisty, so I think maybe Lily Tomlin toward the end of the movie is more like me,” Pensavalle said, but it could be Jane Fonda, she admits.
“I hope it does well,” Pensavalle said. “It’s fun. It’s a happy movie.”
Betty Pensavalle looks at a photo of herself with 3 of her 5 children in First UMC's 1969 Pictorial Directory