"How bout them Pats?" I asked Brian this morning, smugly. Well, as smug as one can be over IM.
"They won by the skin of their teeth," he replied, sour grapes from a Bears fan, sure, but I was shocked at his response nonetheless. That' s not how the game felt yesterday, being at the stadium.
I admit, however, I am not an objective observer.
There is only one thing I'm clearly better at, to my knowledge, than my dad. And that is sitting in traffic. I've been conditioned to it by now after a succession of long commutes, but he has a very low tolerance indeed.
We were merging onto Rte 1 from 95 on our way to the game when it happened.
"These people don't know it yet," my father said, grimly gripping the wheel as we passed by a line of cars waiting to make the same merge, in an orderly line in the right lane. "But one of them is about to be severely pissed off."
Closer to the exit, he put his blinker on and made to cut into the lane, but he was thwarted by a little compact car that had been his nemesis, off and on, for quite a way down 95. It was driven by someone very short--they seemed from our vantage point to be looking through the steering wheel rather than over it--and very slow. Very slow. They were in front of us in the second lane over, hampering my dad's cutting-off style. As we came to closer to the exit to Rte 1, this person only slowed down even further--but there was no blinker in sight.
"If this person is going straight, I'm going to scream," my dad said, stomping on the brake.
He was, of course. And as he pulled away after thoroughly frustrating my dad's attempts to merge right, my dad shouted after him, his voice rising an octave or two as it does when he is incredulous or frustrated, or, as in this case, both.
"There he goes!" my dad screeched. "What the freak!"
It's impossible to describe how funny it was to me.
"Look at you, the Voice of Reason," he said as we finally made our way onto Rte 1 and into more game traffic. "You're going to be the one going all high-pitched while we're watching the game."
I tell that story for two reasons: one, because he was right, and two, because getting there was like the game itself--maybe not always pretty, but we got where we needed to go.
Thing is, I did find that game rather beautiful.
It's hard to pick a favorite moment. The first that springs to mind is Vince Wilfork's lumbering 31-yard run after Roosevelt Colvin muffed an interception. Colvin let go of the ball behind him, and Wilfork seized it, a heads-up play if there ever was one, since eventually it was ruled a lateral, and Wilfork's run to the 15-yard line stuck. The Patriots would score a field goal.
When it happened, everyone--the camera operators for CBS and Gillette Stadium included--was watching Colvin, who stumbled and then ran, clutching his head in frustration, out of the pile. When they tried to show a replay on the Jumbo-Tron while the referees and coaches on the sidelines and the fans in the stands were debating what had just happened, it was Colvin that the camera followed, and so nothing could be gained from the video evidence. The referees eventually had to go to secondary footage recorded by the overhead camera to see what had happened.
Somehow, though a live game lends itself to confusion, I had noticed Wilfork running and was pounding my dad on the shoulder even as he looked around bewilderedly. Now, as predicted, my voice was up an octave. I was babbling a mile a minute, pointing, hollering. He argued back until the run was declared good. Then we celebrated.
But there was also the moment with just over five minutes to go in the fourth quarter when Tom Brady delivered a short pass to Kevin Faulk for a touchdown that proved to be the seal on the game. Normally Brady runs straight for the receiver on such an occasion, but this time he hung back, pointing both arms straight up in the air. At their pinnacle his two pointer fingers stuck out; he stood there for a moment just soaking it in.
As a fan, I see the Tom Brady that takes the podium every Wednesday and Sunday, the GQ cover model with a Boy-Scout platitude for every occasion. So those moments when the other Brady comes out--the trash-talking, hypercompetitive, ferocious alpha male--it feels like I'm being let in on something. Something giddy and maybe even a little obnoxious and not entirely polite. Something I can't get enough of.
But then there was Asante Samuel's interception, probably the standout play of the game--the coup de grace. I managed to get it on film, the one time I've managed to raise the camera and press the button in time at a game.
And there were the little moments here and there. Frozen in my mind is the image of Chad Pennington after Ty Warren all but cut him in half in the first quarter, kneeling on the field and then being escorted to his sideline while around me the bleacher creatures were howling.
Or the moment pre-game when my dad, watching the offensive linemen warm up, said from behind his binoculars, "Modern day gladiators. Those guys know they're going to get their asses kicked, even if they go out and dominate."
There was a bloodthirsty, gladiatorial spirit about the game--between the memory of Pennington huddled on the ground and my dad's comment, I can't help but frame it in that context after the fact.
I don't know what it is, either, about Bostonians and New Yorkers, but even in a relatively nonsensical place for it, there was ire and enmity among the opposing fans. Sure, it's playoff football, and a relatively short drive for the opponent crowd meant there would be more visitors present than perhaps provincial Patriots supporters might have liked. And, of course, they are in our division and this season the series between the two teams has been close and bitter, from the head coaches on down.
But at the heart of it you can't help but conclude that it is simply that they are from New York and we are from Boston and therefore, even though Jets fans are not usually Yankees fans but Mets fans, and even though there have been more troublesome teams for the Patriots over the years than the crew from the Meadowlands, we hate each other. Fundamentally. In our brain stems.
Gillette is Romper Room compared to the war zone that was Foxboro Stadium, but you wouldn't know it when the Jets are in town. I have seen visitors in green and white jerseys pelted with rock-hard ice balls, when the weather permitted it. I've seen more fistfights at Jets games break out than at any other kind--even Red Sox-Yankees games at Fenway, though perhaps I just wasn't sitting in the right place.
In this, as in Jets games past, I saw the police make several forays into the upper deck where we were sitting. Fans in both blue and green were being culled left and right from the 300-level population, doing the drunken stagger of shame down the cement stairs following some dust-up or another.
The one time some Jets fans in the very top corner of the third deck started a J...E...T...S, JETS JETS JETS chant, Pats fans quickly picked it up by the end so that the JETS JETS JETS was drowned out by a sneering SUCK SUCK SUCK. For the rest of the game, a man in our section grumbled in the direction of the offending cheerers in the corner whenever something good happened for the Patriots. After the game, I saw a kid packing up a huge banner that said simply, JETS SUCK.
Make no mistake; from the guys in headsets to the guys in baseball caps hundreds of feet above the field, this was personal.
So in the end, I have to pick as my favorite moment a totally random one, sometime in the second half. I don't even remember exactly when this took place, or what the occasion was, or even if there was one on the field. The sound man at Gillette started playing the opening of "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns 'N' Roses, a song I think an anthropologist somewhere should be studying, because I have never failed to see a crowd of any size, in any location, but particularly in Gillette Stadium, fail to get whipped into hysterics by the descending notes of the opening guitar riff.
By the time Axl was making his whooping entrance on the speakers, the entire stadium was on its feet, waving the towels we'd been handed as we walked through the gates. No snow to recreate the famous "Rock 'n' Roll No. 3" moment of several years ago, so we made do with a frenzy of twirling white cloths and screams and hollers from the primordial bottom of our guts. All at once, en masse, 65,000 people were hollering and beating their chests like the Scottish warriors in Braveheart.
It was impossible not to be caught up in it. It was impossible not to feel the song echoing in my ears and rise along with the rest of the crowd. Not to pump my own fists and yell into the crisp January air, look out over a field of green where my team was conquering its rival, and just be happy to be alive.