By Paul M. Banks
Itâ€™s impossible not to eventually grow to love a team that helps your career, and the New England Patriots certainly have done that for me. And I certainly love them in return. (Iâ€™m really disheartened by them being left out of the playoff picture, despite overcoming a ridiculous amount of injuries to post a solid 11-5 record) Therefore, making my first pilgrimage to my Mecca, Gillette Stadium, was certainly one of the highlights of my 2008.Â Due to â€œre-tah-dedâ€ urban planning, driving out here is not an option. The stadium can only be accessed by two-lane roads and rural route one provides traffic jams that would drive a person to suicide. Foxboro (or Foxborough or Foxborroâ€¦.pick a way to spell your town already!) is located halfway between Boston andÂ Providence, New Englandâ€™s two biggest cities; so the Pats are more than just the team of Boston and Massachusetts, they are the team of all New England.Â
The best way to get to Foxboro is by the express train that runs out of Boston on game days; itâ€™s a party train and a good time. When you arrive, you might feel like youâ€™re in the rave party episode of Friday Night Lights because youâ€™re now out in the middle of absolute nowhere with a crowd of other football obsessed people. The train station is so remotely underdeveloped that many of the passenger cars stopping there require us passengers to climb onto the train after passing through the forest and all its mud, grass and rocks; itâ€™s the only way you can board.
Itâ€™s fitting that my second favorite NFL team, the team that played a role in helping to launch my career would be the one that faced my hometown Chicago Bears in the biggest game (Super Bowl XX) in franchise history. The New England Patriots and Bears franchise share many similarities.
The Cowboys had the â€˜90s, much like the Niners had the â€˜80s, and the Steelers owned the â€˜70s. The Bears dominated the NFL from 1940-46, winning four world championships in seven seasons. George Halasâ€™ team, dubbed the â€œMonsters of the Midwayâ€ early that decade, revolutionized pro football with the T-formation. The Patriots have clearly been the best team of this decade winning three Super Bowls in five years. Most NFL franchises donâ€™t have a decade to call their own, but these two teams do.
Saturday Night Live satirized their fan base
Remember that reoccurring Saturday Night Live sketch about Boston teens idolizing former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra? â€œNo-Mah! We love you No-mah!â€ and then an idiot friend chimes in with â€œHey Zazoo, my boy, No-mah is wicked good and wicked fast.â€ As bad as Jimmy Fallon was in that sketch, at least he didnâ€™t have his guitar then, saving us the unholy alliance of bad comedy with bad music. Sports guy Bill Simmons, in his book, Now I can die in Peace, often reiterates his repulsion for another Red Sox/Fallon related endeavor. The film â€œFever Pitchâ€ is to him what the early â€˜90s SNL â€˜Superfansâ€™ sketch is to me. Every time I hear some unfunny guy yell out, â€œHey Bearsâ€ and â€œDa Bears 76, and Lions 0, my friend,â€ in his mangled attempt at a Chicago accent, I experience feelings of disgust. This started happening in 1991 and has never stopped. Most jokes get a little bit old when theyâ€™ve been repeated every fall for the past 15 years.
Both of these cold weather teams have a mythology concerning games played in snow and ice. Both believe the cold is an advantage to them. As a child growing up in Chicago, winter days were often referred to as â€˜Bear Weather.â€™ (Even during those years from â€™88 to â€™01 when the Bears record in December was God-awful.) For Pats fans, the Adam Vinatieri kick in the blizzard and the snow plow game of 1982 are some of the biggest moments in franchise history. In the New England Patriots Stadium Stories book by Jim Donaldson, Tedy Bruschi is quoted: â€œthe worse the weather gets, the better the Patriots play. When November, December comes and the sun goes down and the snow starts falling, we are extremely confident. Thatâ€™s Patriots weather.â€
During the first quarter of the game I attended,Â I was texting back and forth with two girls: one was Palestinian-American, the other Jewish-American. I pointed this out to my friend at the game, who said, â€œYes, Banks, no one can unify such diverse people like you can. The world can all agree on your love and knowledge of the NFL.â€ I began by texting both of them what â€œRudyâ€™sâ€ father said upon seeing the inside of Notre Dame Stadium.
â€œThis is the most beautiful site these eyes have ever seen.â€ Let the week 12 nationally televised Thursday night battle between the Patriots and Jets begin. Although Iâ€™d rather not talk about the result of the game, it was easily the most exciting professional game I have ever attended live. When Randy Moss tied the game with a touchdown catch as regulation expired, it was extremely powerful movement. Gillette has a lot of cool quirks to it, such as the â€œQuiet please- offense at workâ€ message on the scoreboard when the offense is on the field. However the signature symbol of Gillette Stadium is the bridge and tower- with its hypnotic graphics that emulate a flame and lightning. Watching this makes me feel like Iâ€™m in an ancient temple where the Pharaoh is trying to summon a deity. Speaking of superpowers, I bought the Belichick head band. The score without me wearing it was 24-6 Jets; with me wearing it, the Patriots outscored them 21-3. Clearly this is an enchanted headband that I should have put on sooner.
I thought it was interesting how an older Patriots fan in the Gillette Stadium concourse
approached me asking, â€œWhat is Barack Obama going to do?â€ I did not have any of my Obama campaign buttons on and nothing to indicate I was from Illinois. He asked me â€œCan he turn beer into vodka?â€ obviously mocking the messianic qualities that journalists (myself included) have attributed to him these past couple of years. I said, â€œHeâ€™ll make things less fucked than they have been for 8 years, so letâ€™s start with that and go from there.â€ He said, â€œIâ€™m conducting a poll here,â€ pointing at one guy, â€œHe said nothing,â€ then pointing at another, â€œHe says he doesnâ€™t know.â€
I had no idea Patriots games were so political, with town hall discussions on policy adjustment being held between section 223 and 225. I knew the taverns in New England were all about political discussion during the revolution, but I guess the tradition is alive and well today in Foxboro. Daveâ€™s man-crush Dwyane Wade inspired me to coin the phrase â€œthe shot heard round the SICA.â€ Being in Lexington and Concord reminded me of Emersonâ€™s â€œthe shot heard round the world.â€ Soâ€¦Iâ€™m claiming â€œthe shot heard round the SICAâ€ as that clutch midrange jumper Wade (greatest player in SICA history) down the stretch of the Gold Medal game in Beijing. D Wadeâ€™s 18-22 footer with about 3 minutes to go pretty much clinched a world-changing victory in a crucial battle for U-S-A U-S-A.
What can I say? Iâ€™m a huge Revolutionary War geek, so I love this stuff. And New England has inspired writers for centuries: Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcottâ€¦maybe Iâ€™d be a better writer if I had a third name!Follow paulmbanks