You don't need me to tell you what a big game this is -- if you do, you've managed to avoid virtually every sports broadcast or publication there is for the last two weeks, and I'm not really going to be able to help you there.
I'm also not breaking any news by noting that tonight's game pits the immovable object against the irresistible force, with a Jets team that's 5-0 on the road, a Patriots team that's 5-0 at home, and identical overall records of 9-2 for both teams. And if you don't already have the playoff / division implications drummed into your head by now, you either don't care much about football, or you've recently been living in a cave.
But in the hour or so left to go before kickoff, I gotta do something (besides listen to the talking heads on ESPN until my brain leaks out my ears) and to be honest, I haven't been able to think about much else in the last few hours.
Actually, this game has been in the back of my mind since before the Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit*. Just facing down the Jets in December has always been enough to get a Patriots fan's blood pumping, whatever the standings say -- if only because we really just hate them so damn much (and we're well aware the feelings are mutual, thanks to the green-and-white clad cretins who regularly infest Gillette during these games). Add to that the fact that the Patriots lost to the Jets already in week 2, and you have a little extra edge.
But factor in the usual Jets-Pats culture clash with the fact that this one could turn out to be for all the marbles...and I mean ALL the marbles...and you have ZOMG FOOTBALL APOCALYPSE.
This probably demonstrates an appalling lack of perspective on life, but seriously? This game has the potential to make or break my mood for at least the rest of the week. Disappointment over a considerably dampened playoff picture for the Patriots is one thing. Losing to the Jets is another. Both at the same time? You might want to give me a wide berth for a while, is what I'm saying.
Other than these jitters, another emotion has marked this long week of anticipation, one that's been building as the season's gone on but reached a peak as this game drew near: a yearning to be there in person at Gillette. In past years, I might have been, but after seven years of attending at least two, and usually three or four, Patriots home games each season, our (attainably priced) ticket opportunities this year have been zilch. And saying I miss it is an understatement.
You do see things more clearly on TV. Far less mountaineering-grade equipment is necessary to watch at home. And I won't have to take the day off work tomorrow to accomodate the process of getting out of the Gillette Stadium parking lot postgame, which is also a good thing.
But there's just nothing like the smokily metallic smell of charcoal-fired meats, diesel generators and cold air in the parking lot, the sight of the elaborate displays of Patriots flags and inflatable mascots amid the families tossing the pigskin around, and even the exhilaration of bracing against the shatteringly cold wind of the third deck on a night like tonight, screaming and clapping as best you can through layers of muffling cloth.
I've missed it all season, but the craving for live football has hit a new level leading in to this game. I want to be there tonight only slightly less than I want the Patriots to win. And with so much at stake, so much excitement in the air even around the office this afternoon (to say nothing of the fact that it's ALSO Tedy Bruschi Night), I feel like I should be there. If only to be part of the noise those hated Jets can actually hear, just to be one of the ones to tell them directly -- in essence, if not in so many intelligible words -- not on our watch, you bastards.
Instead, I'll be here, hopefully resisting the urge to scream at them through my TV screen. 'Hopefully' being the operative word...neighbors, be warned.
* Which I completely missed, BTW, because a) I forgot to set the TiVo, b) my mother had some weird thing about us "sitting down together without the TV on" for Thanksgiving dinner, and the c) I went away for the weekend to The Land that the Internet Forgot, aka rural Vermont, and thus missed the NFL Network replay. I heard about Brady's perfect QB rating for the game, saw the highlights on this week's Patriots All Access, and that's about it.