In Tucson, he is Dustin Holmes, a 44-year-old, well-spoken project engineer with Honeywell Aerospace via Raytheon via the U.S. Air Force.
In Phoenix, he morphs into “Kid Stallyn,” the funkiest, flashiest member of the Cardinals flock, decked out and wigged out and thrust onto the Jumbotron on a regular basis.
In Canton, Ohio, he is immortalized.
It started as a gag, a joke, a lark, as so many great things do.
It has turned into so much more. Family, friends, football and, most of all, fond memories.
It was about 15 years ago when Ron Swisher asked his buddy to ham it up.
You look like Kid Rock, he said, and Holmes does. Get some attention, they begged, and he does.
Holmes was one year into his Arizona Cardinals season tickets. He’d grown up in Colorado as a huge Denver Broncos fan, even golfed with The God himself, John Elway. When a new job precipitated a move to Tucson, Holmes figured he’d have to shift allegiances. His move came around the time Elway and the Broncos hoisted their second straight Lombardi Trophy in 1999.
“I was a Broncos fan growing up, and that’s all I really knew,” he said. “But I grew up on Cardinal Lane. It was probably destiny, I think.”
He’d always wanted to be a season-ticket holder, and that wasn’t going to happen in Denver, where the Broncos have been booked up since around the Reagan administration. But with the then-lowly Cardinals? This was the Jake Plummer era. Seats were available.
Holmes plucked down for two in the end zone, second row. He’d take his dad, and if dad couldn’t go, he’d bring Swisher, whom he’d met early on in his tenure at Raytheon. Meeting new friends isn’t always the easiest deal for a dude in his 30s, but Dustin found a good one in Swisher.
One day, Swisher brought a foam red hat and a wig into the office and said he wasn’t going to the game unless Holmes donned the costume.
“Next thing I know, I’m on the Jumbotron, and it’s a blast,” Holmes said. “The whole section was just going crazy.”
It became A Thing.
The cameraman knew where to look, home date after home date, year after year.
The Cardinals’ field photographer, Gene Lower, started hunting him down.
During one game, Lower told Holmes that he’d submitted “Kid Stallyn” into a Visa Hall of Fame fan contest, and Holmes didn’t think much of it. He ended up getting a phone call one day at work, notifying him that he was one of five finalists for Arizona’s fan of the year for 2003. Again, he thought nothing of it, until another phone call came in. He was it. He’d be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in August 2004.
“It’s still crazy to me, it hasn’t sunk in,” Holmes says 12 years later. “As a kid growing up, I looked up to (Broncos super fan) “The Barrel Man”; who would’ve thought I’d be in there with that guy? That doesn’t seem real to me. I’d get texts from the Bidwells (the Cardinals’ owners), saying this is where the team’s staying. It’s so crazy. It’s beyond belief.
“The speech by John Madden, when he talks about all the busts (in the Hall of Fame), and how they’re talking inside there. My head’s right there. They’re listening to me and it’s great.”
Holmes readily admits it: This “Kid Stallyn” thing is a persona, one that he milks and pours himself into.
It started with a hat and a wig, he said, but it has blossomed into so much more than that. The tailgate has swelled to 50, 60 people, with four LCD TVs and a different menu for every different opponent. For the Seattle Seahawks, they drank Starbucks and ate clam chowder. Against the Green Bay Packers, they imported cheese curds.
Holmes’ group latched on with their parking lot neighbors, about 10 years their junior, and now it’s like a family. The kids get along, the wives get along; some of the group travels occasionally to away games, and when they don’t travel, Holmes still packs up the family and drives from his Marana home to a friend’s place up north to watch the game.
They call the gang “Kid and Play.”
“My first wife did not get the passion,” Holmes says with a laugh. “Just didn’t get it. I actually just got married in December — she thinks it’s a little weird. She’s a die-hard Broncos fan. If it’s the Broncos and Arizona that end up in the Super Bowl, I’m going to be broke.”
The Super Bowl was a pipe dream for Cardinals fans for much of the team’s existence — the Cardinals one just one playoff game during a span of 59 seasons. Holmes has only experienced a handful of the lean years, but as any Cards fan can attest, they sink in. Just listen to his disdain for a pair of former quarterbacks.
“Skelton! I don’t ever want to see that guy again,” he said. “Lindley! Go away!”
He’s treasuring this playoff run, but he does believe it’s just the start of something special.
He’s lucky, though. He’s already part of something special.
One of the seats is empty now, and who knows, it may stay that way.
Ron Swisher passed away in 2008 after a battle with cancer. Holmes speaks of him lovingly.
“He was my first friend I met in Tucson,” Holmes said. “When I moved to Honeywell, we kept in touch. We ran a marathon together. He was a real outdoorsy guy. … Just a good, good bond.”
Holmes’ father passed away from cancer a year and a half ago.
There is a void, and all the beer and nachos and touchdowns in the world won’t fill it.
But it helps.
“I have those reminders all the time,” Kid Stallyn says. “I make sure that seat stays empty. That’s Ron and my dad’s seat, and I’m gonna hold on to those tickets until the day I die.”