7 rows back on the 35 yard line
I now understand the NFL experience far better than before I went to the Pats - Colts AFC Championship game this afternoon.
Having never been to an NFL game before, I guess this should not come as a surprise.
Syam, Jeremy and I arrived at Gillette Stadium at 1pm for the 3pm kickoff. The weather was a balmy 32F / 0C, which made my five layers of clothing adequate.
The enthusiasm with which Pats fans tailgated was amazing. These guys and gals love their team, and approach the pre-game partying ritual with a spirit matched by few fans I've ever attended a sporting event with. They arrived early with coolers and propane-powered grills strapped to the back of their cars, and chilled out under canopies while eating, drinking, and people watching. We proved to be amatuers at the tailgating thing, making do with turkey chili and beer in our one-hour "power tailgate".
We met up with Jeremy's buddy Ted, and after 40 minutes of waiting in a mob (calling it a line wouldn't do justice to the logistical planning skills of the stadium personnel) with hundreds of rabid fans who repeatedly threatened to rush the gates, we finally made it into the stadium to hit up section 108. The seats, hooked up through a well-placed friend of Jeremy's at the NFLPA, were 7 rows behind the Pats' sideline, and were close enough to see beads of sweat drip off Ty Law's head. Unreal.
The fans were nuts. We stood for the entire game, as did the other 68,000 people in the stadium. During the first Colts offensive possession, it was so loud that I could barely hear Syam, who was sitting next to me. It would have been better if I was a bigger Pats fan, but I had to (quietly) root for the Colts, as I would have won my playoff pool if they won the Superbowl. There was real camraderie among the fans, which is unlike anything I have experienced at a non-Olympic sporting event.
Thick, wet snowflakes gave the first half a magical quality during which Tom Brady looked like a QB of Destiny as he picked apart the Colts' secondary. The Pats' defense held the Colts scoreless in the first half. We knew that wouldn't last, as Colts QB Peyon Manning was a very deserving 2003 MVP ("Make Vacation Plans," read one sign in the crowd). The only time the game was really in doubt was when Manning had the ball and two minutes left on the clock, with the Colts down by 7--a real MVP situation. Unfortunately, Manning turned Most Verminous Player, failing to gain a yard on the drive.
I am understanding more and more why the NFL is so popular in the USA. Everything about the gameday experience is grandiose: day-long tailgates, mass alcohol consumption, big stadiums, thousands of people, gun salutes after every home score, big hits, GNR and AC/DC during stoppages in play, and twins. Credit the NFL marketing geniuses for fostering the culture of a larger-than-life game experience. It has paid off in a major way for both the league and its fans, including this one.