Football has changed a lot since I first remember becoming a fan. I’ll turn 50 during my final (again!) season as a semi-pro kicker as we get ready for the first NFL prime time draft. That means I’ve been hooked on football since they tried those crazy clear plastic face guards.
I’ve been a Pats fan as long as I care to remember. In the spirit of full disclosure, I started as a Vikings fan and the first NFL game I saw from the stands was Vikings vs. Giants at the Yale Bowl. I begged my Mom to supplement my meager savings to cover the $15 dollar ticket price. Frank Tarkenton threw the winning touchdown as he was getting knocked on his butt and I was hooked forever.
In the age of Patriot Place, there’s a special place in my heart for the memory of that first game in one of those old time bowls. If you’ve never been to a stadium like the Yale Bowl, treat yourself sometime. At that time we hardly heard about the Patriots even though I lived only an hour from Boston.
The Giants were my Dad’s team, my Uncle Butch’s team, and well, everyone I knew rooted for the Giants. My job at the time was the remote control; if they wanted one of three available channels changed, they kicked me in the butt and I got up and changed it. I might also have the honor of official beer opener which was quite a skill in the days of Y.A. Tittle and pre pop-top. A young man had to be agile with the church key to have the honor of opening beer for Dad and uncles.
As the Patriots slowly emerged from obscurity, my friends and I started to pay attention. This AFL game was fast, colorful and best of all, it wasn’t our Dad’s game. The Giants belonged to our fathers, the Pats could belong to us.
My first Patriots game was at the old Schaeffer Stadium. We scored a ride to Foxboro, but we had not yet scored tickets. Not a problem in those days; we found someone all too willing to part with $15 seats for $10 just to get rid of them.
I was told that Schaeffer Stadium was the pre-fab answer that helped low budget Foxboro save the low budget Patriots for low budget New England. To us, it instantly became a monument as important and impressive as the Roman Coliseum, and any way you looked at it, Schaeffer Stadium was never as ugly or cheap looking as the home of the hated Jets: Shea. Schaeffer was above all, our house.
Let’s fast forward…
Last year my wife surprised me with a trip to Patriot Place to watch the away game vs. Indianapolis in the luxurious setting of the CBS Scene. We stayed at the beautiful Marriot and window shopped the lavish stores. I wanted to go to the Hall, and I did; my wife took a nap.
The trip was only tainted by the fact that somehow, the Pats conjured spirits of the past and choked after apparently locking up a win at halftime. My disappointment at the loss was softened by the surprisingly wonderful dinner, and the fact that we were walking distance to our room and being by birthday, well I thought my wife had further surprises in store, wink-wink.
My wife hates Peyton Manning and the Colts more than any other living human being. It was obvious that dinner would be my only birthday present this evening. Then we won a drawing for two tix to next week’s game vs. the Jets.
Back to Patriots Place the following week, our tailgate consisted of marinated pork tenderloin and grilled vegetables with a tantalizing little Merlot. Gone were the old days of brats and kielbasa grilling over charcoal with the amusing little beer splash seasoning.
Before we took our seats, we stopped in at the lovely little wine bar just outside the stadium. I told my wife about the good old days of wearing our snowmobile suits and sending one guy to get frisked so the next guy could clank his way through the gate with the game’s supply of beer jammed down his trousers. Today we’d stand in line for more than 30 minutes as airport type security patted down every potential terrorist, especially those wearing green.
The highlight of the day for me was when my wife “accidentally” spilled a huge glass of expensive Cabernet on a couple of Jets fans. There was hope!
Gillette is a beautiful facility and we’ve now got a tradition of success. Those of us who remember the days when Pat Patriot was something other than a way to cash in on throwback frenzy seem something like nostalgic old dinosaurs now. I had to explain to a grown man in the Hall why there was a John Deere tractor hanging from the ceiling.
Finally, though, we’ve got something to look forward to again. The Patriots proved themselves vulnerable ever since the loss to my Dad’s dreaded Giants. We’re not quite the underdogs of yore, but the Lombardi Trophy once again seems more yon than hither.
This draft will prove interesting. Does Belichick still have the mojo? Is Brady healthy and hungry? Who will finally step into Tedy’s shoes?
I’m looking forward to it, and it starts tonight!