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The bittersweet return of New England Patriots football

Starting a new season just isn’t the same without fans in the stands.

New England Patriots Training Camp Photo by Michael Dwyer-Pool/Getty Images

There’s finally some New England Patriots football today. It feels like forever since they last played, and it’s such a welcome relief from the anxiety and stress of the world in which we’re currently living. But, if I’m being honest, the return of Patriots football is very bittersweet for me.

To understand why, I want to take you back to October 17, 1993. A 9-year-old boy walked into Foxboro Stadium for the first time with his dad. So excited to see the Drew Bledsoe, the shiny new rookie quarterback, but, since Drew was hurt the week before, had to watch Scott Secules get destroyed by Warren Moon and the Oilers. In case you haven’t figured it out, that little boy was me. Since that day, I’ve been to hundreds of Patriots games with my family. Bledsoe’s amazing comeback against the Minnesota Vikings in ‘94, the insane ending against the Buffalo Bills in ‘98, the Snow Bowl, and seven AFC Championship games, just to name a few.

We’ve been going so long, that we’ve become friends with the people in our section. The couple next to us came to my sister’s wedding in October, and I’m friends with many others on Facebook. We talk about our jobs and share pictures of our kids. It’s become a real family atmosphere. Which makes sense, because Patriots games are a family affair for us. My dad and I go to pretty much every game, and the other two seats are usually filled by someone else in the family. I’ve taken my friends, I’ve taken girlfriends, I’ve taken my wife (she refuses to sit next to me anymore, and I don’t really blame her).

Gillette is down the street, and my kids have spent more time there than almost anywhere else, it’s been like a second home to them. They go to The Hall, they go to the practices, they go to the Pro Shop. My oldest daughter went to her first preseason game last year and had a blast. I was going to be taking both her and my 7-year-old to another one this season, and I had planned for this to be the year my oldest went to her first game. A 9-year-old girl with her eyes wide walking into a huge stadium to see her favorite team play a game on a fall afternoon. I can’t think of many things I want more than that.

Unfortunately, that is going to have to wait. We decided to defer our tickets to next year amid the uncertainty of Covid-19. So, while I couldn’t be more excited that fall is finally here, and we get to watch our team play football again, there’s a small part of me that’s sad too. Sad that my kids won’t get to experience being in a stadium for a real football game yet. Sad that I won’t be spending the majority of my fall and winter Sunday’s at Gillette, surrounded by my family and friends. Sad that nothing in our lives seems normal anymore.

With the sadness comes a small sense of gratitude. This won’t last forever, and it’s showing us how important those things that we sometimes take for granted actually are to us. Few things compare to the feeling of walking into Gillette Stadium for a home game, but, after seeing so many amazing games, it’s sometimes hard to remember that on the early season 1 pm games. And when I’m finally able to take my kids to a game, I’ll treasure every moment, and hope that those memories stick with them forever, as they have with me.

One thing that won’t change is that Patriots games will always be a family gathering place for us, and I can’t wait to experience again next season. Until then, I’m going to enjoy the season, and try to teach my kids the game as much as possible. Because, whether I’m in the stadium or not, I want my kids to remember, and enjoy, watching games with me. I want them to feel like the Patriots are part of the fabric of our family, because that’s exactly what they are.

Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast

Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats