Well, another Summer has just flown right by – and here we are at Opening Day 2018.
This is the 3rd straight year that I’m attending an opening day game and, with the exception of the playoffs, opening day is the most electric atmosphere you’ll find at any game all season. Even the bad teams are still in it on week one and the fans of those bad teams still have hope and enthusiasm. The game I’m at today isn’t one of those bad teams though, they are perennial Super Bowl contenders and the best NFL team of the generation and possibly of all time, and their fans are pumped up for them to make another run this year.
Since Cathy isn’t big enough of a football fan to justify shelling out $400 more dollar for a ticket for her, she spent the day in Boston while I headed to South Station to grab the Patriot Express for the 45-minute train ride to Foxborough. Gillette Stadium is located halfway between Boston and Providence on Route 1, a four-lane highway near the intersections of Interstates 95 and 495. From what I’ve been told, traffic into and out of the stadium on game day can be sheer hell, so having this train as an alternative option is great. Plus at $20 round trip it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than parking alone would be. The only catch is that there is only one train and it leaves the stadium 30 mins after the end of the game, so if you miss it, you are hitching back to Boston.
Since there are thousands of fans who take this train, they add a hell of a lot more cars than can reach the platform at Foxborough. This means that most folks getting off have to jump down about 4 feet off the train onto a gravel bed and walk about ¾ mile on the gravel to get to the platform. Once at the platform, the route to where you need to go is clever marked on the ground with a color coded path along very nicely manicured and landscaped grounds.
My first impressions of Gillette Stadium were exceptional. Rather than just a sports venue, this was more like a small city. Next to the stadium entrance is the Patriots Hall of Fame and Pro Shop in a building called ‘The Hall’ which houses Patriots memorabilia from throughout their history, in particular all of the great Super Bowl teams, and presents it in an interactive, high-tech manner.
Adjacent to the stadium is a massive open-air shopping, dining and entertainment complex called Patriot Place which has a collection of over 100 shops, bars, restaurants, etc. including Bar Louie and Scorpion Bar. In addition, there is the Showcase Cinema de Lux shows first run movies, Showcase Live contains a 16,000 square foot concert hall, and Splitsville is a combination bowling alley/restaurant/night club. Patriot Place is meant to attract fans to hang around after the game end to avoid traffic, but also as a year-round destination not just for game days.
I had a little trouble getting into the gate as the lines were long and there were issues with the bar code scan issues. Maybe all of the kinks weren’t worked out for opening day.
The stadium has some nice architectural features that are very ‘New England’. In particular, the bridge and lighthouse feature at the north entrance. The lighthouse is one of the principal meeting places in the stadium for fans and the bridge offers some great end zone views.
Inside the stadium there are several open areas where fans can hang out and have clear views of the game action without being confined to their seats in particular the Draft Kings Fantasy Sports Zone on the 100 level which features more than 40 TVs and about as many craft beers on tap or Union Point on the 300 level as well as on ‘the bridge’.
Cost of tickets by far highest of any stadium visit yet, 300 level seats over $400. I’m sure much of this is attributed to the opening day premium. Seats are angled toward mid field and give great views of the game. Players come out to the usual introduction fanfare with AC-DC’s “For Those About to Rock” being blared over the PA. The biggest ovation of course was for QB Tom Brady. This was followed by an F15 Eagle Jet flyover.
Fans sitting near me were mainly season ticket holders who were a bit cliquey but were for the most part friendly. One annoyance was a woman sitting next to me who sounded just like Lois Griffith from Family Guy and talked for most of the game. A ritual at Gillette is for the ‘End Zone Militia’, a group of local fans dressed in colonial garb, to fire their muskets in a 21-gun salute after every Patriots score.
Stadium concessions were all pretty much run of the mill with the two standouts being Smokehouse Grill and Backyard BBQ.
The Patriots pretty much had the game in hand throughout going up to a 21-6 halftime lead by 3 Brady TD passes. A late TD pass from Deshaun Watson with a little over 2 minutes left in the game brought it to 27-20 which is where the final score stood.
I got the jump on the crowd to make sure I got back to the train and was able to get a seat. I was back in Boston sometime before 5. At night, we headed over to Fenway Park to catch the Sunday Night ESPN Red Sox vs Astros game. It was actually the first time in my life that I went to an NFL and MLB game in the same day.
Tomorrow, we’re heading up north and taking the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard for a couple days.
Next week it’s on to Cincy and Pittsburgh for some week 2 action.
Welcome back football!
Fans – C – Perhaps spoiled by years of success, the fans seemed a lot more subdued that I would have expected for opening day. Also, they were pretty cliquey and disregarded anyone not wearing a Patriots jersey.
Features – A+ – Very impressive layout with the Hall of Fame, Pro Shop and Patriot Place. Draft Kings lounge, the bridge, the open concourses – all great features.
Location – C+ – From what I’ve heard, it’s up to a 3 hour drive from Boston or Providence on gameday. The train was a nice option, but limits when you arrive. and leave. If not for having Patriot Place as an option for pre/post game fun, this would be a D rating.
Food – C – Decent fare, nothing exceptional. High prices. Lines weren’t long.
Game – B – Pats had it in hand throughout. No real moments of excitement.
Overall Experience – B+ – A great venue with a lot to keep your interest before and after games. Just tough for fans to get to/from on gameday.