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Dicker, Bolts Surprise Inaugural International Fan of the Year

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Stephen Ruane hopped on a call expecting to answer follow up questions about his International Fan of the Year application.

The Melbourne, Australia native never expected he'd be the Chargers selection for the contest. Or that Chargers kicker Cameron Dicker would deliver the good news.

"I was blindsided by it… totally blindsided," Ruane said. "I just didn't know what was going on.

"Then super excited after that, after it all sort of started sinking in," Ruane added. "In my head it's still ridiculous."

Ruane was named the Chargers International Fan of the Year for representing the Bolts all the way from Melbourne, Australia, in the first year of the NFL's contest that celebrates international fans of all 32 clubs.

His fandom of the Chargers dates back to the mid-1990s when he saw former Australian rules football player Darren Bennett make the jump to the NFL as a punter.

A fan of Bennett's Melbourne Football Club, Ruane followed the punter to the Bolts, where he became a two-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro in nine seasons in the powder blue. Bennett was inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame in 2012.

As the years passed, Ruane's fandom for the Chargers grew as he became more entrenched in American football.

"All these big names and big characters you start to take more notice," Ruane said. "Also playing Madden, the EA Sports game, you start to learn a little bit. That's how it kind of formulated."

Ruane later added: "That was my anchor point, cause of Darren, and just naturally grew from there."

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Some of his favorite early Chargers players include LaDainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers, Shawne Merriman and Lorenzo Neal.

Even with limited access to watching games in the early 2000s, his fandom would continue to progress over the years as he got more into the sport and new Chargers players joined the fold.

"We didn't have access to every game, so you're just trying to find highlights to every game you could and that was the early years of YouTube and stuff, too," Ruane said. "You sort of take what you can get.

"Then through that into Keenan Allen arrives. He's amazing, I love him," Ruane added. "Now [Justin] Herbert. It's pretty exciting the list we have."

With a time difference of 19 hours between California and Melbourne, kickoffs for Ruane are much different than they are in the states.

Still, he supports the Bolts every week during the season — even though that means some early mornings to cheer on the team.

"Monday morning's our time, it's like 3:00 a.m., 4:00 a.m., so there's a lot of early wake ups to watch the games," Ruane said. "But [the Chargers] being on the West Coast, a lot of the daytime game start around 7 a.m. here."

He later added: "It's like, 'It's Monday, I got to get up'."

As the Chargers inaugural International Fan of the Year, Ruane will represent the Bolts at the 2024 NFL Draft and have the opportunity to announce one of the draft selections on stage in Detroit. He will also participate in International Fan of the Year events and activities hosted by the NFL.

The nerves have already kicked in for him since getting the news, but so has the excitement to be able to represent the Bolts on such a grand stage.

"Full butterflies in my stomach," Ruane said. "I've had them for the last few days. Just trying to really get my ahead around it. It's still unbelievable.

"I'm still trying to get my head around it," Ruane added. "Fully excited, fully anxious, every emotion. I'm feeling at the moment while trying to live my normal life. It's a bit surreal."

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