When I was 19 years-old, the girl of my then dreams – Karen – asked if I would take her to a Patriots game. At the time, I was living in Attleboro, MA, just 15 minutes from Foxboro Stadium. Thanks to a terrible team and their terrible record, tickets were easy to come by. I was thrilled at the prospect of spending the day together.
But when Sunday arrived, it was bitterly cold and windy with frigid temperatures. I called Karen and suggested that we postpone. Though I would still be going to the game, I thought it was a bad idea for her to attend.
“No,” she insisted. “I want to go.”
“Okay,” I said. “But dress warmly. It’s going to be bad.”
When she arrived at my house, she was wearing a pair of jeans, a jacket, knee high black boots that were clearly fashion over function, and a winter hat.
I was wearing nearly everything I owned.
I begged her to stay behind, but she insisted, so we went to that awful stadium of metal benches, open concourses, and concrete despair. By halftime, the Patriots were losing 3-0 to the New York Jets in what was shaping up to be the worst football game I’d ever seen. As the clock clicked down the final seconds of the half, Karen whispered, “Thank God it’s over.”
“Over?” I said. “It’s only halftime.”
“Halftime?” she said, shaking like a leaf. “Matt, I can’t do another half.”
And she was right. She might have actually died if she had stayed in that stadium any longer. It was her own damn fault, but she was right, so I had a decision to make:
Leave with the girl of my dreams or stay and support this terrible football team in a half empty stadium.
So I did the only thing that made sense:
I handed her the keys and told her to wait in the car.
Crazy, I know, but in my heart, I knew that Karen was not going to be my forever girl. But the Patriots… That terrible football team would be with me forever.
When the game ended, I made my way back to the car, half expecting it to be gone. Honestly, I wouldn’t have blamed her. But to Karen’s credit, it was sitting where I had parked it, warm and ready to go. I climbed in and told Karen the bad news. “We lost 6-3. Can you believe it?”
She didn’t say a word to me. For the rest of my life.
I drove her home in silence. I never spoke to her again.
But I was right about the Patriots. They have always been here for me.
Thankfully, my friends and I have gotten much better at tailgating over the past 22 years. That is a very good thing, because had we not gotten better, I might’ve died, too.
Ten years after the Karen incident, I became a Patriots season ticket holder, joining the Patriot faithful just as Tom Brady was starting his career. One of the first games I attended was in the freezing rain. My friends and I struggled for an hour to erect a tarp to protect ourselves from the rain while we tailgated, but when we four grown-ass men failed to put up a simple tarp, we set up a card table, some chairs, and played poker in the rain.
Granted, we could’ve sat in the car until game time, but we thought that being outside in the cold rain was better. I was never colder in my life than that game. I don’t think I ever truly recovered. A bit of that cold still resides in me to this day.
Things slowly got better over the years, though we continue to stumble from time to time.
There was the time when my friend, Shep, and I arrived too early and couldn’t yet enter the stadium, so we sat in the cold and shared a one-pound Recess Peanut Butter Cup.
There was the time we forgot the grill completely and had to trade beer and propane with other tailgaters in order to cook our food.
There was the time Tom Reed Swale left the game early and drove home with the food for the post tailgate festivities, forcing us to scour the parking lot, bartering our excess beer for food. It actually turned out pretty great, with about a dozen other Patriot fans joining our tailgate with food in hand. We spent the evening meeting new people, eating a smorgasbord of random food items, and recording video messages to Tom about how much we hated him.
There was the 2004 playoff game against the Titans that was so cold – 15 degrees below zero – that beer spilled on the table froze instantly and soda purchased inside the stadium froze before it could be consumed.
Two years ago, I took my friend, Scott, to a Cowboys game. It was 30 degrees, raining, with wind gusts reaching 25 miles per hour. Cold rain is the worst. Give me two feet of snow over cold rain any day. I don’t think Scott will ever go to a game again.
Today, things are very different. We arrive to the parking lots hours before game time, and in a matter of minutes, we assemble a living room on the dirt. An EZ-Up (or two) with walls to keep out the wind. A propane heater that raises the interior of the EZ-Up to a cozy 72 degrees even when it’s subzero outside. A television to watch the early game. We even have tables, chairs, a grill, side tables, and a trash can. We essentially build a house in the parking lot, complete with all the amenities, save a clean bathroom.
I’ve seen tailgaters bring couches to the game. Recliners. Christmas trees. Track lighting. Fryolators.
For the hours spent in the parking lot, eating and chatting and watching football, it’s worth it.
Then, of course, we must decamp, disassembling our glorious outdoor living room and beginning the half-mile trek through cold, rain, and snow to the stadium, trudging across route 1, where police officers brandishing automatic weapons and mounted on horses stop traffic so we can pass. Pushing our way through throngs of fans to the metal detectors and the ticket takers, we finally the climb up a multitude of ramps and stairs to the highest point in the stadium, the upper deck, section 333, row 15, seats 15 and 16.
Exposed to the elements, we don’t care. The trek from car to seats will work up a sweat on even the coldest of days, and it will keep us warm well into the second quarter, when the cold and elements will once again catch up to us, slowly working their way through coats and mittens and boots.
By the fourth quarter, our temperature is entirely score dependent. If we’re winning, we’re warm. If we’re losing, we are slowly freezing to death.
All of this to watch men play a children’s game for a king’s ransom. A game that is also being broadcast in high definition on our televisions at our warm homes, just steps away from a full refrigerator, a bathroom, a bursting pantry, and a soft couch.
What a terrible way that would be to watch a football game.
I like our way a lot better.
Matthew Dicks is an elementary school teacher, bestselling novelist, and a record 51-time Moth Story SLAM champion. His latest books are Twenty-one Truths About Love and The Other Mother.
Sean Wang, an MIT architecture graduate, is author of the sci-fi graphic novel series, Runners. Learn more at seanwang.com.