Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Snow Game

(Seven years ago the New England Patriots made an improbable run to win their first of three Super Bowl championships. With a backup quarterback, a rag tag offense and punishing defense they defied the odds makers and beat the "greatest show on turf" St. Louis Rams, featuring the now leader of the Arizona Cardinals, Kurt Warner. Their Super Bowl run started in a snowy evening in Foxboro Massachusetts.) This piece was originally published 9/7/07.

January 19, 2002.

The Snow Game.

The greatest football game in New England football history.

I was there.

The New England Patriots have played bigger games (as of the date of this writing they have played in 5 Super Bowls), they have played in closer games, had games with more controversy (1976 playoffs vs Raiders, sno-blower-gate) and they have played games in worse weather conditions. There has never been a single game in their history that could compare with this games combination of magnitude, atmosphere, suspense and exhilaration.

The Pats had a season that was typical of those since Bob Kraft had bought the team in the early 90's, competitive, hopeful, but missing some unknown key ingredient. The one difference between this team and the others in recent history was that they were peaking. They had earned a home playoff game and in every possible scenario it would be their only home playoff game thus making this game the last game played in the drab, dismal Schaefer... Sullivan...Foxboro Stadium. As horrible as it was a venue, it held a vault of beer soaked memories that could never be replaced by a state of the art stadium. Going to Foxboro Stadium was like going to a football game in the town of Bedrock circa 2500 BC. Touch football in the rock strewn, gravel parking lot. The smell of meat cooking on ridiculously huge grill fires. Drunken fights at 11:00 AM, two hours before kick off. Blood and beer.

The week leading up to the game my buddy Billy and I had been scouring the net for tickets to the game. Billy is a hard drinking , hard living guy who bought his father's roofing business back in the 90's and was my golf partner. He had bought season tickets back when Kraft bought the team, but had sold them recently to a vendor of his. We had gone to lots of games together, but were on a mission from God to go to this game. We wanted to experience one last game like cavemen, drunk, eating meat and watching fights. On Friday afternoon I found some tickets for $200 a piece and immediately called Billy, excitedly. He had already gotten us tickets from a vendor, for free.


Saturday we got on the road at 11 AM. packed with beer and a crock pot full of meatballs and sausage. The game was an 8PM start, but we had a plan. Drink. Check into our hotel we booked knowing it was going to be a late, drunken evening. Spend the afternoon in Providence drinking. Get on our cold weather gear and head to the game. Things pretty much held to plan.

During our ride down the Mass Pike the snow had already started falling as predicted, but was not yet sticking to the frozen pavement. It wisped back and forth across the road blown around by the speeding cars. We checked into our hotel in Attleboro on Route 1 about 5 miles from the stadium at 1PM. We plugged in the crock pot and hopped back in the car for the 15 minute ride to Providence and its warm, inviting stripper bars. The snow was still light as we made our way into "Club Fantasies". We opted for this joint on the recommendation of the front desk clerk at the hotel over the infamous "Foxy Lady". There is nothing like sitting in a warm, cozy stripper bar with 50+ naked women prancing about while drinking beer and shots of Jaegarmeister as the snow piles up outside. Its like Apres Ski without the Apres or the ski. Billy and I sat at the bar for the most part occasionally heading into "The Pit" (a squared off section next to the main stage) for a $5 sample table dance(an R-rated version of the $25, X-rated, private table dances done upstairs. We had lost time while in the joint and when we walked out sometime after 5 PM it was into "white out" conditions.

It took us 45 minutes to make the 15 minute ride back to the hotel. We put on our "long johns" and waterproof gear, gathered up the meatballs and french bread and headed toward the stadium. My Bonneville handled surprisingly well in the snow and the trip to the stadium went smoothly. We stopped at a liquor store 2 miles from the stadium and Bill went in. He came out with 12 nips of Grand Mariner. We pulled in to the stadium parking lot and there were no discernible parking spaces. The snow was at least 8 inches deep. I had plugged the crock pot into my a/c converter which plugged into my lighter on the way to the stadium from the hotel, so we expected some steamy, hot meatballs to go with our beer. No go. The converter not only shorted the lighter, thus making our meatballs cold, it shorted out half the electrical system including the defroster, heater and inside lights. We sat in the car eating luke warm meatball grinders washed down with ice cold beer. 45 minutes before game time we filled our pockets with beer and nips of Grand Mariner and headed for the gates of the stadium. At the gates there were ticket takers and droves of security. I thought for sure we would have all of our booze confiscated. I handed the ticket taker my ticket and got a token pat down by a disinterested security person. I know he must have felt one of the five beers I carried in in my jacket pocket or one of the six nips I tucked in my socks. I turned to Billy as we headed to our seats in Section 216 and said "I guess Kraft is trying to save money on demo and is hoping someone brings in a bomb". "I'll drink to that" he said as he hoisted a Grand Mariner in a mock toast.

The scene at our seats were something that could not be duplicated by the best of Hollywood's special effects artists. Snow was falling sideways under the dim lights. The grounds crew was walking back and forth over their respective yard line snow blowing the line so you could see the yardage. Players were warming up mainly by running in place or doing jumping jacks as to not get injured before the game even started. A fog was enveloping the stadium caused by the breath of 60,000 strong anticipating the kickoff.

The game developed slowly. The only scoring in the first half was a Raiders touchdown, Gannon to Jett. In the third quarter the Russian born Sebastian Janikowski and the South Dakota born Vinateiri, both seemingly oblivious to the weather, accounted for dueling field goals with Janikowski winning 2 to 1. With the Pats down 13-3 the crowd got restless. Our half of the stadium, on the Pats sideline, spontaneously started chanting "We want Drew" in response to Brady's inefficiency. Drew was warming up on the sideline and seemed to zip the ball a bit stronger as the pleas for his entry became louder.

Then there was the forth quarter.

Brady appeased the masses by driving the ball down field early in the quarter and ran one in cutting the Raiders lead to 3. Miss cues on both sides ensued. With under two minutes to go Brady dropped back to pass and was being tackled when the ball popped loose. The crowed groaned collectively as a Raider pounced on the ball. I started yelling hoarsely, drunkenly "His arm was going forward, they are going to reverse it." I repeated it a number of times while people stood in dead silence or headed sullenly for the exits. Some guy a few rows in front turned around and told me to shut up. Just as I was about to dive over a couple of rows to fulfil the trifecta of booze, meat and blood the ref said the play was being reviewed. I suddenly went from drunk "belligerent" guy to drunk "knows what hes talking about" guy. The call was reversed and everyone was hugging, high 5-ing and kissing like it was New Years Eve. The guy that told me to shut up even gave me a high 5 which I reciprocated as hard as I could.

Brady took advantage of the second chance, but couldn't get us within "chip shot" range which on a night like that would've been inside the ten, if that. He got us to the 30 with just under 30 seconds to go. The snow seemed to pick up in intensity when Vinitieri was lining up the field goal attempt. As the ball lifted off the ground into the falling snow I immediately sunk my head. The trajectory of the kick was way too low to travel 47 yards and I didn't want to see it miss. As I stared at the pile of beer cans and bottles of Grand Mariner, covered with snow, piled at my feet the roaring erupted. The kick carried just enough over the cross bar to tie the game at 13 - 13. Every hair on my body was standing on end. People were falling over their seats. For two straight minutes everyone in the stadium was bouncing in unison, screaming and laughing.

This never happens to us, we never get the breaks.

The ghosts of Ben Dreith, Buckner, Piersall, "The Fridge", Desmond Howard and Bucky Dent who had been lingering over the moment retreated hastily from the joy and ectasy rarley experienced on a January night in New England.

Over time was anti-climactic. We won the coin toss, drove the field and AV made a chip shot right in front of us to win the game. As Lonnie Paxton was making snow angels below the stands were a sea of euphoria. People were screaming, jumping, cackling, hooting, hollering and even crying. I stood there like a lifeless spector not making a noise, but soaking in the sights and sounds of the moment until Billy bear hugged me bringing me back from my daze. No one left their seats for an hour. Every fan stayed there listening to the post game interviews being broadcast over the loudspeakers, drinking smuggled booze and telling tales of this game and games prior. It was like an Irish wake, drunken and raucous, but touching.

We made it back to the Bonneville about 2:30 AM, but didn't get out onto Route 1 until after 3AM. We passed out at our hotel immediately. I woke up at 7 AM to take a piss. As I stood over the bowl, still drunk, I noticed that my right hand was killing me. I inspected it figuring I must have slept on it the wrong way, but the palm was black and blue. I sat on the end of my bed flummoxed, then it hit me. As I walked out of the stadium I high fived at least 1000 people.

We got on the road by 10 AM. At home I alternated between worlds on my couch while watching the Steelers and Rams win. Every time I closed my eyes I could see the breath rising and the snow falling. It was a mid-winter nights dream.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Just Another Ordinary Day

Today is just another ordinary day. I woke up. Drank a shitload of coffee. Made breakfast. Got one son ready for school. Got the other one ready for the day. Did some work. Checked the ice on my rink.

Inauguration day is always amazing to me. Peaceful transfer of power, hope, trepidation all converge in a show of pomp and circumstance that rivals most monarchies. Freedom is fluid and the fact that we can change the ruling party overnight without bloodshed or violence makes this country the most remarkable and stable society in history. Yesterday a black man was sworn in as President of the United States. No shots fired. No unusual displays of discourse. As extraordinary as it was that we elected a black man as President of the Untied States it was just another ordinary inauguration. It was just a beautifully orchestrated show of our countries unity and common ground.

To me,the fact that this Inauguration Day was business as usual shows how far we have come and what makes our country the greatest in the history of this planet.

Here's to many ordinary days to come.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Rink...Bigger and Better

Last year I built a skating rink in my backyard (read here). This year its bigger and better. Last year it was about 60 x 25 when all said and done. This year its 70 X 40. A new net and some tweaking such as keeping an unfrozen hose in the basement for nightly icings have made for a perfect surface. Since I dropped my digital camera in my coffee Xmas morning I can only download picutes in the camera's memory (the memory cards are unusable in the camera, now), so when I buy a new camera in the next week or two I'll take some action pics. Until then enjoy some pictures taken after this past weekends snowstorm.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Normalcy Returns...Whatever THAT Is

Since my last posting life has been a roller coaster, on ice, with the riders all smoking crack, puking, with the flu and me strapped to the tracks.

December 13, 2008

My five year old son Matt and I left hockey practice at the Mullins Center on the UMass campus both drained. I had that foreboding feeling you get when you know you are getting sick. Matt is usually a tiger on the ice, but today skated like a kitten. He starts a small cough as we pull into our driveway.

December 17, 2008

Matt and I are both coughing all night, but it subsides in the AM. Matt goes to school to endure his own sleep deprived hell, while I have to fight my lack of sleep while doing last minute Christmas preparations with my three year old Peter in tow. Pete hasn't gotten sick...yet.

December 19, 2008

Matt goes off to school in the AM. Amazingly, he hasn't missed a day off school, but is obviously not feeling well. He has a dry cough and is lethargic, but can function. I have offered to keep him home each of the last three mornings, but he chooses to go to school. He must realize that being home with me while I'm sleep deprived and sick would be worse than him being sleep deprived and sick sitting in his classroom. Pete still seems OK. Mom goes to work each day and seems oblivious to our plight. She is immersed in her yearly pre-Christmas mania. She won't be able to relax until sometime Christmas night. I am supposed to meet my friend Eric in Foxboro tomorrow for a night of drinking then a Pats game in the snow on Sunday. I consider cancelling, but figure that being sleep deprived and sick while drunk watching football in the snow is better than being sleep deprived and sick hanging out with a stressed out wife, sick kid and an energy filled unsick kid.

December 20,2008

I wake up feeling better than I have in days. Matt seems better too. I get out while the gettin's good. I drive to Franklin Mass where I meet my friend Eric who currently lives in Maine. We have gone to a Pats game every year for close to 20 years. Even when he lived in Cleveland we would meet in Buffalo for a game. We spent the night drinking, re-telling drunken tales of old, etc... I fall asleep in a queen sized bed to the sound of my own snoring.

December 21,2008

Eric and I trudge to the game in an eight inch snowstorm. I am not hungover, but only have three Bud Lights in the car in the parking lot outside of the stadium while cranking the heat and watching the snow melt on my wind shield. the snow piles up outside my vehicle. We are sitting eight rows up from the field in the corner end zone. The game is a joke. The Patriots are up 24 - 0 sometime in the second quarter. We consider leaving early, but are the types that don't leave cause you never know if a once in a lifetime play or occurrence will happen. In the third quarter it does. Cassell throws a screen pass out to his left to Randy Moss who has a 70 yard clear run to the end zone, our end zone. As he cruised down the sideline it was as if he was all alone and running toward me, only me. Like in a love story with two lovers running toward each other in a field of daisy's I made my way down the eight steps and got to the railing overlooking the end zone just as Randy crossed the goal line. He started walking toward me with the ball outstretched. I quickly realized that he was bringing the ball to a kid who was standing next to me with his dad. As he handed the ball to the starstruck tyke I was reaching down patting Randy on the shoulder pads. It was a real, live Coke commercial (you remember the one where Mean Joe Greene throws the shirt to the kid). We leave the game in the forth quarter with the Pats up 47 - 7. I get home and scour the Internet for footage of me and Randy's moment.

December 22, 2008

While I was on my "man" weekend Pete and Lori become ill. Pete has a 102 degree temp and Lori has an upper respiratory something. She goes to work, Matt goes to school and Pete pukes a half a dozen times. There always seems to be penance to pay after a "man" weekend. Pete naps numerous times throughout the day as do I.

December 24, 2008

Pete is getting better, but still whiny. I drop him and Matt at my sister-in-laws while I drive to Boston to pick up my Uncle Mac. I stop at my mother, aunt and grandmother's grave site and leave them a Christmas gift then head to BC where my uncle has worked for 45 years and picked him up for the 100 Mile ride west. We get back to Northampton around 2 PM and spend the afternoon watching "A Christmas Carol", doing last minute wrapping and watching the kids get wound up for Santa. We go to my sister's house for a turkey dinner about 6PM, but get out of there by eight to put the kids in bed, for Santa.

December 25, 2008

Christmas morning was magical, until I dropped our digital camera in my coffee, ruining it. If I dropped the camera 1000 times it would not have fit perfectly in my cup as it did. The day was great, otherwise. We hosted dinner at our house. While the kids played with their new toys the adults drank wine and Irish coffee, gorged themselves on my wife's dessert creations and watched "Bad Santa".

December 26, 2008

I dragged my ass from the couch playing the Wii Santa brought for the kids and placed plastic down on the area I had snow blowed last week on the side of my house. My rink will be bigger and better than last year. My uncle helps lay down the plastic, but falls hard on his ass, but is OK. He won't be the first person to fall on his ass on the rink this year.

December 31, 2008

In the midst of his first school vacation Matt is in a Wii induced coma, rarely leaving the couch to eat or use the bathroom. At one point I think he shit himself and just when I'm about to yell at him I hear the cat was scraping around in the litter box. We have a babysitter come over around 5 PM and we go out for a quick, but intimate dinner at the Whately Inn. We go home and play the Wii until 11 PM. We go to bed and are asleep 1/2 hour before the New Year.

January 2, 2009

Matt and I are skating on our rink. Pete went skating for the first time earlier in the week at the Mullin's Center free skate and was able to stay up by himself by the end of the skate. He has no interest in skating today, but says he'll skate with "mom" when mom skates. Fricken "mama's boy"! There are a few rough spots, but it's skatable now and will only get better with consecutive icings and colder weather.

January 3, 2009

Hockey practice was nothing short of awesome. Matt and I were both back to our normal selves, skating hard for the first time since early December. We just introduced sticks and pucks to practice which makes it feel like hockey instead of skating practice. Tomorrow we'll skate on our rink at home then it's back to school Monday. Time to get off the roller coaster.