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.


Suldog said...

I loved this piece then and I still love it now. I only wish the Pats could have made the playoffs. They deserved to, and they could well be playing Arizona this coming Sunday if they had made it.

I know, sour grapes. Sorry.

car games said...

I loved this piece and it is incredible.

Andraste said...

Ahhh...a great tale, spun by a master of sports tales.

Reminds me of a Giants game I went to (don't blame me, SPOUSE grew up in CT and is a HUGE fan - truthfully, I root for them too, when they're NOT playing the Pats) and watching my sister in law try to get into the stadium with about 12 beers hidden on her person. Security got them all - but the show was amazing. He kept going "there's more, let's have 'em" as she pulled out one at a time, hoping to get away with at least one or two...no go.

Giants stadium is on a marsh. DAMN it was cold. I'm never going there again.

David Sullivan said...

They don't call them the "swamps of Jersey" for nuttin'...

Andraste said...

I've been ice fishing in Northern Maine (outdoors, not like ice fishing in the movies where the wussies sit in shacks with booze an Uma Thurman - seriously, the Allagash- if I'd at any point in my life had nuts, I'd have lost 'em.) and I swear I've never been so cold.

Kevin Smith said...

Dude, reruns?!

No, seriously, I should be one to talk as I've done it before myself. Loved this one when it first ran.

That game was a thing of beauty.

God, I miss football already - and the first person that says, "what about the pro-bowl this Sunday," gets smacked. Seriously - it's neutered football.

David Sullivan said...

I know Kev, there has been a dirth of time and creativity lately. Both will open up eventually...I hope...someday