Once a year, I make the trek to Mecca (aka: Gillette Stadium) in Foxborough, MA. Call me "fair weather", but I usually pick a September or early October game; as a New Englandah, I’m perfectly suited for the cold and well equipped to handle it, but the chattering of my teeth tends to distract me from enjoying the game.
Being our second pilgrimage of the season and taking place in the middle of January, we decided to depart the Lowell, MA area around 1:00 PM EST and "tailgate" at the CBS Scene. Our resident kiwis are approximately 14,688km (9,128 miles for us heathens) from Foxborough. I am not. I’m not as close as Marima, mind you, but 1 hour and 15 minutes down 495 and route 1 had us outside Parking Lot 11 by 2:15.
My brother-in-arms had wisely stopped at our favorite deli and picked up our favorite sandwiches: he goes for corned beef on a bulky roll with spicy mustard and american cheese while I prefer pastrami on rye with spicy mustard, american cheese and onions. (We’d planned to eat at CBS Scene, but his "preemptive strike" proved wise, as you will find out in a few moments.)
Our parking position was a happy accident; we discovered a "new to us" path to the Stadium and were rather pleased with ourselves. We arrived at CBS Scene to a small line. The nice security lady at the door did a fine job fending off those trying to cut the line. (I have a lanyard - I must be privileged!) Once in, we put our name on the list, gave our phone number and were told it would be a 90 minute wait, that they were enforcing a 90 minute table limit. Nothing could’ve been further from the truth. CBS Scene is multiple levels. We briefly explored each and settled on the lowest level as they had a bartender dedicated to the SRO crowd and that level had the biggest television screens. We checked our status a few minutes before the 90 minutes were up and were informed there were 35 parties ahead of us. What happen to enforcing the 90 minute table limit?
After standing at CBS Scene for 3 hours, we said enough is enough. An hour before game time, we decided to take our chances in the Stadium and made the short walk to the gates. A decent burger consumed and Sam Adams in hand, we were seated in section 340, row 11 - the official nosebleed section of Gillette Stadium. But we were there and it was the AFCCG! The only downside was we were surrounded by Purple & Black. In droves. Fans can often times mirror their team’s demeanor. I find Patriots fans to be somewhat reserved, contemplative and gracious. That’s not to say we don’t have our fair share of asshats but, by and large, I believe we keep things on the up-and-up. I find the Ravens, as a team, to be whiny, in your face and constantly playing with a chip on their shoulder. I am happy to say not all of the Purple & Black contingent in my section were that way, but enough of them took on this attitude to prompt a few comments from me. ("Tom Brady sucks what?!?! I think you’re in the wrong place to say that, pal.")
I felt sorry for one of their faithful, more so for his buddy. I felt sorry until he made me get up for the fourth time and miss yet another play. 5 minutes before the half, he disappeared again (he stumbled down the stairway so fast we thought he was going to nosedive over the railing into the section below) and never returned. His buddy, who had driven up from Baltimore with him, went down to find him and never returned. Hopefully, the drunk dude simply cooled off in a security holding area and didn’t need advanced medical care. I find it odd that someone would go through all of that effort and expense to totally miss the event because of a few too many beers. I’m sure there’s plenty of people out there that would kill for a chance to be there and this kid simply took it for granted. If I was his friend, I’d be in his ear the whole ride home and wouldn’t speak to him for weeks after.
The openness of Gillette Stadium makes it nigh impossible to amplify any crowd noise, but that didn’t stop the faithful from screaming their collective selves horse, myself included. Every Ravens offensive play was met with a barrage of screaming Patriots fans, as if the mighty wind created from this noise would knock the ball out of the air or, at the very least, make it difficult for Flacco to audible at the line. Alas, my fellow compatriots, twas not enough.
I’ll leave the detailed game analysis to the fine writers of this site, but I will say the Ravens deserved to win this game. Their defense held the vaunted Patriots offense to 13 and Flacco led the Ravens’ offense at a breakneck pace, gassing the Patriots defense at times. Yes, Flacco fought fire with fire and exploited the hurry up to its fullest. They came into our house, into hostile territory, and neutralized one of the most storied offenses of its time. Hats off.
Leaving our seats, I congratulated a few of the more reasonable Ravens fans on a job well done by their team. More so, on a job well done by THEM. I truly appreciate chatting with rival fans who are passionate about their team and can appreciate why I’m passionate about mine. There’s nothing like a great conversation with a rival fan sprinkled with some good natured ribbing. I also wanted to make sure they knew we weren’t "arrogant pricks". Sigh...
The ride home was quiet, as you may imagine. We listened to 98.5 The Sports Hub for a bit and then turned it, preferring to pass on the game analysis for now. We did catch Belichick’s postgame presser and I had to chuckle. I’m constantly amazed at the beat reporters who think they’re smarter than Belichick, attempting to catch him saying something out of turn. How many times does Belichick have to answer, "It’s the officials call" in response to Ridley’s fumble before these reporters realize he’s smarter than they are? Asking the question five different ways is like trying to cross an alligator infested moat from many different places - the results are the same.
This was a much different experience than premium club suite seating at the Bruins’ opener the night before, but no less satisfying. I feel lucky to have attended and lucky that I get to cheer for a team this good. I suffered innumerable pre-Kraft seasons and am now enjoying the spoils of great ownership. They have created one of the finest franchises in NFL history and I’m glad to be a part of it.