More Notes from the Football Game
If given a choice, I'd probably take Patriots season tickets over Red Sox season tickets. Fewer games, an easier commuting / parking situation, more accomodating ballpark; from the plantation fields of asphalt for parking to the brisk organization of the stadium staff to the commanding view of the field from every seat, Gillette Stadium is a far more comfortable place to watch a game than Fenway Park.
And there's an ethos to football, and football fans, that makes me feel just...cozy. The smell of barbecue in the parking lot. Bonfires in metal buckets. Potbellied men and no-nonsense women. Unabashed jersey-wearing, face-decorating, banner-waving yahooism. Clusters of good ole boys lined up for TV cameras, pointing their fingers "number one" into the air and yelling, "Yaaarghhhhhhhhhh!!!", then standing back and high-fiving, looking pleased with themselves, when the cameraman moves on.
I mean, the kind of fandom that prompts cardboard cutouts set up next to tarpaulin tents in the parking lot. The kind of fandom that unapologetically celebrates a towering, garish, pompous Taj Majal of a sporting arena, all but wallpapered with flashing lighted signs and ads. The kind of fandom that cheers gamely every time "For Those About to Rock" plays over the stadium sound system.
Every time my father and I go to the football game, when the smell of grilling hits us in the parking lot we indulge in plenty of forehead-slapping and chagrin over not having packed a hibachi and some steaks or something. Okay, not only not having packed them, but not having even purchased them.
Someday, we tell each other. Someday. Our tailgating ritual is to fantasize about our someday-hibachi.
In the pro shop, I handle an authentic replica Brady jersey with the care and reverence of a museum curator fingering ancient textiles. The numbers and insignia are appliqued or embroidered--this is the kind of genuine, reinforced, sewn, scientifically engineered jersey that the actual Tom Brady wears on the actual field, not like my fake one with the numbers screened on and crumbling with every trip through the washing machine.
It costs $229.99.
"I'll buy it for you," my dad says, having seen it on my Christmas list. "But that'll be it for you for Christmas."
A weird feeling hits the pit of my stomach. I think about all the things I've asked for that I need, like an iron and ironing board. Or that will make my life more convenient at the apartment, like a new shower head and a towel rack for the bathroom. I think about having nothing to open Christmas morning, but sitting there feeling foolish in my sparkling new Brady jersey.
I know as soon as I touch the thing that I won't be getting it. But I carry it around the store for a while, looking at other things. I contemplate both a fake Bruschi jersey and a sideline knit hat before my father and I decide that both of these items can be bought just as easily in Nashua, NH as at the pro shop and leave, empty-handed.
"It sucks being mature, doesn't it?" my father laughs.
This time, I managed to climb the endless ramp to our seats on the third deck without suffering a near-heart attack, unlike on our trip to the stadium for last year's playoff game against the Titans.
"You're flyin' here!" my dad says, pounding me on the back at the top. "You cut down on the butts, or what?"
Five bucks for a beer. More than five bucks for Italian sausage, which my father specifically requests from the concessioneers with peppers and onions, but which comes bare and forlorn in a soggy roll inside the tinfoil.
The beer kid looks in his pouch, drags out a ten and four ones. "Oh, uh...I can go get a five if you want..."
"That's a neat way to earn a two-dollar tip," my dad barks. The kid looks sheepish.
"Yeah," my father laughs. "I bet you are." But he gives him the two bucks anway, doesn't he?
On the opening drive, Brady connects a deep pass, but is pancaked by a Bengal.
"Oh, my God, Dad, he was hit so hard," I gasp, watching Brady jump up quickly and gallop around the field on his long legs like nothing happened. It's about all I can say for five minutes.
"Well," my dad finally shrugs. "That's why he plays."
In fourteen seconds on the game clock, the Patriots score fourteen points--once on Brady's bomb to Patten for a 48-yard touchdown, and once on an interception by Asante Samuel, who chugs into the end zone with one index finger held aloft. My father is downstairs on the concourse using the bathroom and buying more snacks.
"Christ," he mutters when he gets back. "I missed fourteen freakin' points, here."
"Tommy blew snots," I tell him proudly, by way of greeting, referring to that macho habit of plugging one's nostril with one thumb and blowing boogers forcefully onto the ground from the other nostril. In full-color glory on the Jumbo-Tron, Brady had done just that. Something about that contradiction, the way such an azure-eyed prince can also be so indelicate, just heightens his appeal to me.
"Did he," my father says mildly.
For the rest of the game, when things start going wrong for the Patriots, I threaten to banish him to the concourse again to balance the karma.
My dad likes making friends. Especially at games. When we went to the Red Sox game on my birthday, he kept high-fiving this freckle-faced kid behind us who you could tell was nonplussed. At the Pats game, my dad befriends a guy named Frank, who walked in in the midst of the first quarter with two friends, each of them carrying two beers. He and his friends squish by us what seems like every two minutes to get more beer.
Frank and my father high-five on every successful Patriots play. They use each others' first names alot, and everyone seems very amused, as if it's funny that they're on a first name basis when they don't know each other from a hole in the ground. Somewhere around the third quarter they begin discussing the regional high school football playoffs.
At the end of the game, Frank all but hugs my father goodbye, and I notice a piece of toilet paper clinging to his jacket.
The crowd makes a barbaric sound when two of the Bengals receivers get "jacked up" by Rodney Harrison and Eugene Wilson in succession. Wilson, in particular, hits his man with his entire body, almost literally running him over. The sound is part horror, and part satisfaction, a sound like you'd imagine the crowd at the Coliseum made watching gladiators.
On the way home, with the post-game show blaring on the radio and the heat up to full blast, I fall completely and solidly asleep in the passenger seat of my dad's minivan, grunting every so often when my dad tries to make conversation (possibly to keep himself awake). At some point I might as well be six years old, bundled in my winter wear, head lolling against a car seat, with my father driving the car, and he knows where we're going.