(I know I usually talk about all things fatherhood here, but you’ll have to indulge me on a football post today. I’ll return to regularly scheduled programming once I’m done venting)
As I made my familiar trek to Gillette Stadium yesterday for the Patriots playoff game yesterday, my blood was pumping. My father and I had already watched the 2001 Super Bowl DVD, as has become tradition before any big game. Then we tuned in to the pre-game shows just to listen to the talking heads who pick against the Patriots, because it riles us up and (just like the team) we can play the “disrespect” card and claim “no one believed in us except ourselves.” And when I got out of the car and heard the distant bass pumping from the stadium, I was sufficiently fired up.
But I think I was the only one.
As I walked through the parking lot toward the gates I became acutely aware of the fact that this was not a playoff atmosphere. The tailgates were subdued. People weren’t giving random high-fives as we made our way through the crowd. When we hit the mass of people waiting to get in, there were no “Let’s Go Pats” chants and we were missing the beloved drunken fools who scream like maniacs about winning the game.
Instead, Bob Kraft had hired some Boston band to play live as everyone was entering the stadium. The band name was “Keep Me Conscious.” Very fitting.
But the minute I knew things weren’t going to work out for the Patriots was before the game even started.
Wes Welker, the team’s standout wide receiver who was injured last week in Houston, was spotted on the sidelines. As they showed him on camera donning crutches, I felt like the only guy in the stadium who began yelling and screaming and getting emotional. After all, this guy WAS the Patriots this year. He had 120 receptions and he was the only player who seemed to show any emotion all year. The 5’6″ Welker took HUGE hits in every game, but always bounced right back up even if he was spitting up blood afterward.
I turned to my dad and said “If the Patriots make him honorary captain this place will go fucking nuts.”
And sure enough, Welker limped out to midfield and the announcement came over the PA system that he’d be honorary captain. Gillette Stadium came to life, but only for about 10 seconds. Then the fans fell silent.
I was horrified! That round of applause should’ve been constant. It should’ve lasted throughout the entire coin toss. It should’ve been so loud that the refs had to stop the coin toss and force Welker to tip his hat to the crowd. It should’ve been the most emotional part of the year, the kind of moment similar to when Tedy Bruschi first came back from his stroke.
But it wasn’t. And right then, I knew we were finished.
Sure enough, the first play from scrimmage was a Ray Rice touchdown. Followed by a strip sack of Brady and another Ravens touchdown. Once we were down 14-0 just 4 1/2 minutes into the game, they might as well have just blown the final whistle.
Columnists everywhere are calling it the end of an era. And they’re right. The Patriots have won three Super Bowls in 10 seasons and they made the playoffs seven out of the nine previous seasons. Their success has been undeniable, mainly because teams aren’t supposed to stay elite for a decade. I’m thankful for this golden era because I remember the 1-15 days of Rod Rust and Dick McPherson. The days when the Patriots weren’t even on the local sports radar, and all of their games were blacked out on TV because they never sold out home games.
But what many people don’t realize is the real end of an era happened eight years ago when the Patriots moved from Foxboro Stadium to Gillette.
Gillette is a beautiful place. The stadium is well constructed, the concourses wide and there are actually seats. Foxboro Stadium was built on the cheap. The toilets in the bathroom didn’t always work, it was falling apart and cramped, and for years we sat on aluminum benches with no backs. Aesthetically, the two stadiums are night and day and there’s no doubt Gillette is superior.
But as uncomfortable as Foxboro Stadium was, I loved it.
There was no reason to go there except to watch football. And, it was affordable. In 2001, my dad’s season tickets in the end zone cost $31 a ticket per game. When they switched to the new stadium, it jumped to $75 a seat. Now it’s close to $100. Not to mention it costs $7 for a Bud Light and $40-50 just for parking. And when the time comes for my dad to transfer ownership of his tickets to me and my brother, the Patriots charge $3,500 PER TICKET simply to change the name on the account.
Some people call Patriots owner Robert Kraft a businessman, but I have a few other names I’d choose first.
The point is, when the Patriots switched to their elite new stadium they also underwent a shift in their fan base. In the past, you couldn’t give Patriots tickets away. So the only people who went there were people who genuinely cared about the team. But then they won the Super Bowl at the same time as they switched to the new stadium. And that meant a ton of bandwagon fans coming over at the same time as all the rich yuppies bought the new luxury boxes. Also, many of the real blue collar fans were priced out of the new stadium and forced to give up their season tickets. Unfortunately they were replaced by Volvo driving douchebags who think being a “real fan” is buying an ugly $400 leather coat with a Patriots logo sewn on to it.
And when they’re done watching the game (usually in the third quarter or so) they leave and go shopping nearby. And the Kraft family is perfectly OK with that, seeing as how they actually play movie times during the game. Seriously. Yesterday was a playoff game and during timeouts and breaks the scoreboard was listing off movie times.
IT’S A FUCKING FOOTBALL GAME!! Granted, yesterday’s was an awful one, but this happens at every game. Stop playing movie times. Get rid of the “Fan Cam” and the morons who bring signs to the game in attempt to get on camera. Make it so you don’t need to take out a second mortgage to attend a game and bring back fans who actually want to be there.
Because right now Gillette isn’t loud. Hell, the people around me get upset because I swear. I repeat, they get upset because I SWEAR AT A FOOTBALL GAME! And then they tell me and my dad we’re “too negative.” If they sat through the late 80’s and early 90’s with this team and still remembered those horrors, they’d be negative too.
What we’re left with is tens of thousands bandwagon fans who don’t really give a shit. And maybe they have the right idea. Maybe I care a little too much about a game played people I’ll never meet. But I can’t help it, I do care. I love the Patriots. They’ve been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. They’ve been a bond for my dad and I, and that will continue when I can bring Will to the games.
But I don’t want my son thinking this is how true fans of an NFL team should act. I don’t want him saying “Oh look dad, Alvin & the Chipmunks The Squeaquel is playing after the game, can we go?” I want him to be interested in the game and passionate about his team.
After all, “fan” is short for “fanatic.” And right now, this team’s fan base needs more fanatics. And less shopping choices for God’s sake.