"Oh, the weather outside is frightful--"
(Not just the meteorological climate, either. The political climate is fairly frightening right now as well. Before the game started an emergency Presidential address was broadcast live over the Jumbo-Tron)
But the fire is so delightful--
(The fire in this case residing in the eyes of Tedy Bruschi, whose snarling face was shown, two stories high, on the same Jumbo-Tron hours after the President occupied it. It's cliche, but the only phrase to describe Bruschi in that moment, pacing and grimacing and gritting his teeth is "caged animal")
"Since we've got no place to go--"
(Because, really, maybe there's more to life than football...but who wants to deal with any of it?)
"Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"
Now take those familiar Christmas lyrics and put them through the enthusiastic throats of a capacity crowd at Gillette Stadium, and you have quite a phenomenon. Add a blizzard putting the final nail in the proverbial coffin of the shivering Jacksonville Jaguars as the hardy New England Patriots pummelled them, 27-13, yesterday afternoon, and it becomes a battle cry.
It was the 101st sold-out game for the Patriots, blizzard and deep cold--19 degrees at kickoff--notwithstanding. I was one of the bundled-up throngs there to enjoy the game. In the parking lot my entire paycheck's worth of gear from EMS blended in among the Gore-Tex, downfilled, fleece-lined acoutrements of my fellow fans, who tailgated in the chill with a kind of grim and slightly insane vitality. Men with giant beer guts squeezed into hand-me-down ski pants. Wizened women fumbled with cigarettes through gloves and head socks. Frat boys tossed the pigskin as if it were a balmy July afternoon. Parents who otherwise would shudder to think of their children out in such weather slapped a ski mask on 'em and told them to toughen up when they whined. Told them to become New Englanders, in other words.
It was probably an alien landscape to the Jacksonville players as they stepped off their chartered plane into the Arctic ferocity of the northern winter. In the parking lot, there was nary a green jersey in sight.
Pete Prisco of CBS Sportsline.com puts it best, quoted in this Boston Globe article: "(Patriots fans are) very intelligent, educated, and absolutely out of their minds."
It's true. How else can you explain a whole legion of people willing to brave hypothermia to watch a team that didn't even make the playoffs last year? That continue rooting and pulling for their team, not to mention call in and scream at sports talk radio hosts, after a blowout like the 31-0 debacle the Pats started the season with against Buffalo? That remain optimistic and upbeat about their team's chances even as they play the most rookie starters in the league due to a litany of injuries? It must be some type of collective insanity.
Of course, it's working. Our team sits atop the NFL this season. Our quarterback repeatedly acknowledges in interviews how much is added to an already notable home-field advantage by the fans, who are quiet as church mice when he and his offense take the field, and a roaring horde of barbarians when the opposing team snaps the ball. That, you see, is the intelligent and educated element of the mix. We may be a bunch of lunatics, but we know there's a time and a place.
Of all the images shown on the Jumbo-Tron yesterday--Bruschi on the prowl, men without shirts screaming into the snowstorm, various witty signs held by fans--the one that speaks to this controlled insanity the most was of the face of Richard Seymour.
Seymour was held out of the first quarter because he had arrived late at the stadium after attending his grandfather's funeral the night before. When he came in in the second, he was loaded for bear. And yet as a thumping hip-hop beat blared over the loudspeakers, Richard bobbed his head, smiled, and mumbled the words to himself, a relaxed and focused man in the insular world of his helmet. Later, he caught sight of the cameras on him and smiled out of the giant screen as the crowd drove itself into paroxysms of noise.
As the din swelled, Seymour flapped his arms in the internationally recognized sign for "Yell louder". The yell went off the charts and Seymour stood back and bathed in it, hands in a GQ-pose by his head, nodding and smiling. The crowd kicked it up yet another notch.
At the absolute crescendo, Seymour looked into our collective eyes and brought his right fist to his chest, once, twice, right between the 9 and the 3 on his jersey. Who knows if he was thinking of his grandfather, or the fans, or some combination of both, but it was an incredible lovefest just then between a superstar defenseman and tens of thousands of his closest friends.
Shortly after that, the flakes began blowing in. The Jacksonville Jaguars looked dazed, as if they were just waiting to wake up from the nightmare. The score piled up on them even as the drifts stacked up on the field and in the stands. The snow began flying in time to the stadium music, just as it had in the shutout the previous week against Miami. It was clear that the Jaguars were dead in the water by halfway through the fourth quarter. But the vast majority of the fans stayed, hollering, until the clock on the scoreboard read 00:00.
Yes, you may question our sanity. But never question how much we adore our team. And how grateful they are to us.
Afterwards the parking lot was a nightmare. We sat just barely nosed out of the parking spot for forty-five minutes. For the next hour we sat a mere five feet away, next to some people crouched around a sputtering fire near a tarpaulin tent, tailgating in the whiteout. Now we're back to the "out of their minds" aspect.
New Englanders are normally a surly breed, but in the tangle of the parking lot people started to act strangely. Letting one another go ahead in traffic, otherwise a cardinal sin in the Greater Boston area. Wiping off one anothers' cars (the snow quickly overwhelmed most windshield wipers). One man walked over to our car, knocked on the window, and when I opened it, slipped an ice-cold bottle of Smirnoff Triple Black inside. Kellie and I sat in the idling car, staring ahead into the brake lights, and split the beer.
It was the most exquisite thing I've ever tasted.