It's not the same place in the preseason, without that cold bite and the buzz of a meaningful game in the air. But it's still one of my favorite places in the world.
Gillette Stadium in the Year of Our Lord 2006 is the reflection of a franchise at the full smooth stride of dominance--or at least excellence--over the landscape of football, and its palatial bulk looks out with similar calm domain over another relaxed tailgate, nary a flake of snow in the air, while on the ground flames lick up from portable grills and Nerf footballs wing lazily between children and men.
After doing the full formal pomp and circumstance of the tailgate ritual last week with Steve--marinated chicken and steak tips on the grill, potato salad, the works--I had settled with my father on a menu of burgers. Potato chips. Maybe a little beer. Keep it simple this week.
But this is my father we are talking about, after all. I had expected, when we finally debarked at our parking spot, to find some freezer-burned thin patties in styrofoam, dug out of the fridge at home.
Nope. My dad had gone out and gotten some half-pound Angus steak burgers, two to a package, that looked much more like meatloaf or perhaps filet mignon. These burgers were so decadently huge, they looked silly on the conventional burger bun. My dad is, above all, an overachiever.
There was also another element of his personality exemplified by the filet-mignon burgers; earlier, I'd found him in the office at the house on stubhub.com finding a Sox ticket for my sister's boyfriend. When he discovered to his shock that the only shipping option was FedEx Overnight for $20, I urged him to just get my sister's boyfriend to pay it, since the ticket was for him.
"Eh, he can just buy me a beer at the game," my dad said, clicking place order.
As he printed out his confirmation page, he turned to me and grinned sheepishly. "I'm a freakin' touch," he said.
We sat back. We waited for the burgers to cook. We watched the drunken idiots across the row from us leer, holler and belch drunkenly. We cracked open the Cape Cod chips. We munched on peanuts, throwing the shells on the ground.
Let's erase the next part. That was the part where I drank some Smirnoff Ice and it disagreed with me, and my stomach was sour for a while. Let's go right from that tailgating scene right up through pre-game warmups to the introduction of the Patriots.
The team won handily again tonight, this time creaming the Washington Redskins. The crowd was a bit more lively, actually making some noise (if feebly) on some defensive downs. A Redskins fan in a glittery bebe top sat and yakked on a pink Razr, got up to go to the bathroom or smoke a butt or talk some more on the pink Razr approximately thirteen times in the first half; when she wasn't doing all of this she was either gloating or whining at a Pats-fan friend.
But by far the most memorable moment, sweet as it was to see the team of "bebe" get crushed, was at the very, very beginning, when the announcer, bellowing out the names of the Patriots defense, said with extra gusto, "Starting at free safety...number thirty-seven...RODNEYYYYY HARRISONNN!!"
"O Fortuna" from Carmina Burana blared on the stadium soundsystem. Below us was a swirl of color and noise. A chill autumnal breeze blustered around our faces.
"How can you help but get goosebumps?" my dad said.