Before I knew it, I was in Foxborough.
It was 10 AM on the morning of Sunday’s highly-anticipated Patriots-Steelers game, and my friends and I were an eager 6 hours early.
The parking lot to the stadium didn’t open until 12 PM, but the majority of the private lots (including ours) opened somewhat -illegally at 11 AM — private lots are typically required to open for business no earlier than 4 hours before game time unless a State Trooper says otherwise.
Must’ve been our lucky day.
With the official ‘OK’, we proceeded to the lot of our choice and immediately began assembling our tailgating attire.
6 hours, 40 responsible cans of beer, 1 bottle of Dr. McGillicuddy’s, 12 bowls of chicken chili, 6 lbs of steak, and 1 unsuccessful game of washer toss later, it was time for my friends and I to head into Gillette Stadium.
It was time for football.
Upon entering the stadium, one member of our entourage was frisked quite thoroughly, resulting in the confiscation of several nip bottles.
However, security managed to miss the flask in his jacket pocket and the two were granted admission soon after.
We got to our “seats” in a particular Standing Room Only area, and the game began.
“Oh Great,” I thought to myself. “Rene Rancourt is singing the National Anthem. ”
My conscience quickly intervened, “Guy, you’re at the Patriots game. Renee Rancourt should be the least of your problems. Plus, his mustache and fist-pump give him the confidence to do things that are cool and cavalier.”
I guess inner-Nick was right: Renee Rancourt’s mustache is sweet.
There was an important football game to be played, and thinking about a mustache other than Wes Welker’s would most likely fall under the category of “Cheating on Your Team”.
Time for the first quarter.
IN-GAME (FIRST HALF):
New England won the coin toss, but that soon proved uneventful when they went three and out.
Pittsburgh, however, seemed to come out with a considerable amount of tenacity, eating up more than 8 minutes and bringing it all the way down to the New England 5-yard line, resulting in only a field goal.
Thanks in part to a great return by Chad Jackson, the Patriots again had the ball, and refused to go three and out for a second straight time. 9 plays later, Brady threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss. The pass was Brady’s 42nd of the season, and the reception was Moss’s 18th.
OK. It was a start.
END OF FIRST QUARTER. PITTSBURGH 3, NEW ENGLAND, 7
After an unsuccessful Steelers drive, the Patriots took over with guns a’ blazing when Tom Brady sold the play action to Laurence Maroney for a wide-open Randy Moss. The completion was good for a 63-yard touchdown, leaving the entirety of the Pittsburgh defense wondering what went wrong and exactly how Moss managed to get 5 yards behind their safeties.
Newsflash: Steelers, No.1 Defense Buy the Run Against Pass-Heavy Pats!
That should clear things up.
5 plays later, the Steelers offense came roaring back. Ben “I wear a helmet on the field, not on my motorcycle” Roethlisberger threw a beautiful 44-yard touchdown pass to Najeh Davenport after avoiding a sack, and displaying some fancy footwork.
Nearing the end of the first half, each team was forced to settle for a field goal.
I still wasn’t convinced.
END OF SECOND QUARTER. PITTSBURGH 13, NEW ENGLAND 17
With the game favoring the Patriots by a meager 4 points, I wasn’t exactly convinced that my team was playing as good as they should have been. Flashbacks of this season’s scary-close games — and ideas of what to do to the guy behind me who kept screaming “Cheese-Berger!” in obvious reference to Pittsburgh’s quarterback — frantically ran through my head.
I needed to get away for the time being.
Something inside told me to get up and go.
Naturally, I went to the bathroom.
But before making my way into the actual room, I was forced to wait in line, where I engaged in sporty conversation with a man wearing a Terry Bradshaw jersey. For some reason or another, he informed me that Tom Brady — whose jersey I was wearing — stole Bradshaw’s number 12. I laughed it off instead of telling him that his statement wasn’t particularly relevant to the game at hand. He then proceeded to bypass the lines leading to the stalls by urinating in a sink.
Good for him.
Halftime was over. Time to get back to the game.
IN-GAME (SECOND HALF):
The half’s most notable play came at the 10: 17 mark of the third quarter when Brady threw an errant screen pass to Randy Moss. Brady’s pass was off the mark, causing Moss to drop it for a brief second. However, Moss had the presence of mind to throw a perfect spiral back to Brady, who then found a deep Jabar Gaffney for the 56-yard flea flicker touchdown.
An instant eruption of 68, 756 fans — some good, some bad — soon filled the cold winter air, and the high-fives that followed soon made me forget about the weather.
After the game, Brady noted that Moss’s throw back to him was better than that of his to Moss.
With the successful completion of the Steelers-esque trickery, I was beginning to feel more and more confident about the Patriots’ chances in this game, but also, I began to truly wonder if this Patriots team would go undefeated.
The Patriots would go on to score one more touchdown in the 3rd quarter on a short pass to Mr. Mustache himself, Wes Welker.
Things were looking great.
END OF THE THIRD QUARTER. PITTSBURGH 13, NEW ENGLAND 31
Besides one more field goal — which came later in the fourth quarter — New England’s potent offense was done for the day.
The real story, however, may be the job that the defense did, especially on one particular play at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
With the game not yet out of reach for the Steelers, Roethlisberger and co. managed to make their way down to New England’s 1-yard line.
This was about to be a game, right?
On 3rd and 1 from the 1, Roethlisberger decided to throw the ball. His pass was incomplete thanks to a great play by Rodney Harrison.
The very next play — 4th and 1 — the Steelers offense again tried unconventional means of getting into the endzone by running an end-around with Hines Ward.
Stuffed! A goal-line stand!
Again, Gillette erupted into a frenzy. And even though there was nearly 13 minutes left, Steelers fans quickly and bashfully departed en-masse to the uproarious chant of “Guaran-tee”.
I guess they figured that things could only get worse if they stuck around, right?
My buddies and I, however, ended up staying for the remainder of the game. And it was well worth it.
I felt like a kid again, waiting until the very end of the game to say goodbye to all the players and fans. It was special. It was something that I’ll never forget, even if they don’t go undefeated.
As we left the stadium, U2’s “Beautiful Day” began to play, and moments later, a light rain began to fall.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not all that fond of this song, and I’m certainly not naive, but there was something very inspiring about the rain and the atmosphere that made me realize just how special Sunday night’s game really was.
Call it symbolism. Call it coincidence. Call it what you want.
As for me, well, I think I’ll just call it a day. A beautiful day, that is.
A beautiful day indeed.
PITTSBURGH 13, NEW ENGLAND, 34