Sunday I got up early and drove to Target in Watertown, picking up some cheap binoculars. They came with a cord to go around my neck, a handy carrying case and a multi-tool that I’d attach to my keychain if I weren’t sure to lose it the next time I went through Logan. I then made my way to Newton, soaking up fall sunlight, to rendezvous with Fraley, Melissa and Serpico.
We made it down to Foxboro in a little over an hour and set up our space-efficient tailgate – some folding chairs, two camp tables, and Fraley’s ultra-portable grill, Ol’ Smoky. “She’s got a sweet spot right in the center,” he said, reaching under the grill with a long-necked lighter. “So you’ve got to make sure to JESUS.” Smoky belched, his apple-red lid rattling with a gout of flame.
First course: Shaw’s pizza on tinfoil. The heat didn’t distribute as evenly as we’d like (see “sweet spot” above), but I had no problem with a bit of black on my crust. Not everyone felt as daring, though, and even I had my reservations when I could still taste the char three quarters of football later.
Speaking of: Mel and Fraley seemed astonished that this was my first game at Gillette Stadium. I marveled at the suburban bazaar that is Patriots Place: movie theaters, restaurants, Puma outlets, Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works … a middle-class resort. Call me a bad libertarian, but I’m secretly glad that the casino bill this past spring failed, since there’d been some talk of Kraft backing a casino at or near Foxboro. In theory I’m in favor of putting another billion dollars a year in Robert Kraft’s pocket; in practice, I oppose it.
I hadn’t sat in the upper deck of a football stadium since watching the Ravens tussle with the Steelers in Memorial Stadium eleven years ago, and they didn’t optimize Memorial for football. My fears were out of place in Gillette, however – even in the 300s I could see the field with remarkable clarity. The binoculars I bought that morning still proved useful, as I spied out a number of close plays. The Patriots took an early lead and never relinquished it, thanks to competent ball-handling by Matt Cassel and the usual string of Belichick trick plays. The Patriots closed the first half with their infamous “slow knee” – waiting a few seconds to run down the clock before kneeling to stop the play. “Other teams hate that,” Fraley observed. “There’s this gentleman’s agreement in the NFL – you kneel the ball right after the snap, we won’t vault over the line and crush you.”
The mens’ room at Foxboro during halftime is more orderly than I would have thought – guys file in and wait behind a particular stall, rather than queuing up thirty deep and dashing for the first one free. I got in and out quickly, trying not to quietly retch at the guys who brought open cups of beer into the stalls with them. Then I remembered I’d promised Fraley a beer, and could use one myself, so I found a wandering Coors guy. He was wrapping up a transaction with a middle-aged man and his younger woman. “Checkin’ my ID,” the man was complaining. “You didn’t even look, did you? What year was I born?”
“1963,” the beer guy said.
” ’62!” the customer crowed. He took his beer while the woman handed over some bills. “Where’s the change?” she asked.
“I gave it to you,” the beer guy said, indicating the folded bills he’d just passed over.
“I mean the fifty cents.” This is another gentleman’s agreement surrounding football – if the price of beer or a dog comes out to some figure less than a whole dollar, the silver comprises part of the tip. You don’t make a man carrying a twenty-pound tray of icy beer by his trapezius muscles in winter root around in his pocket for two quarters.
“I don’t have it,” he said, turning to me.
“Two,” I asked, flashing a twenty.
“You don’t have it?” This had brought the
middle-aged 46-year-old man back. “You not gonna give her that fifty cent?”
“I don’t have it. That’ll be fifteen.” That last was to me, obviously.
“Honey, get his badge number. I’m'a write his ass up.”
I slipped back into my seat a minute into the third quarter as the Patriots slowly nursed their lead. “They remind me a lot of the 2000 Ravens,” I observed to Fraley. “Slow offense built around ball control, big scoring opportunities from defense and special teams.”
“Now that the game’s all but put away,” Serpico observed, still worrying about his fantasy football team, “this’d be a great time for a Lee Evans touchdown …”
“Shut it! No one wants to hear that!”
A late Buffalo touchdown (not by Lee Evans) didn’t stop the Patriots from trouncing the Bills, 20-10. We joined the surging crowd in the long walk back to the parking fields, where we re-lit Ol’ Smokey and cracked open some chorizo and burgers. We talked about the past and watched football fans lob sloppy passes and light off fireworks. My dad texted me Ravens scores, cheering over their 41-13 slaughter of the Texans.
The gentleman in the pickup next to Fraley’s car observed us, killing time and letting traffic thin out over a flaming grill. “That’s the way to do it,” he said. I knew what he meant.