Let’s face it, it’s a slow time in the NFL right now. The pads are put away. The players are awaiting training camp. And the fans, well, there’s not much for us to do but wait.
So I’ve decided to share a personal story about my love for the NFL and the idea I have to visit every stadium in the NFL before my time on this earth ends. And I’m almost halfway there.
But before I divulge some of the experiences I’ve had visiting a few of these venues, we have to go back to the very beginning.
The year was 1976. My best friend at the time basically forced me to pick an NFL team to root for. Although I’m from the Tampa Bay area of Florida, it was the Buccaneers first year in the league and I wasn’t really interested in becoming a fan. I had briefly watched Steve Grogan and the Patriots on TV and, on a whim, decided that day they would be my team.
Since that time, I’ve been a diehard fan, witnessing both the ups and downs of the team. I suffered through their first Super Bowl appearance when they were dismantled by the Bears in 1985. I watched them win only two games during the 1993 season. And, of course, I’ve seen them hoist the Lombardi trophy three times since 2001.
My first ever NFL game was in 1976, the same year I “decided” to become a Pats fan. My dad took me to the Bucs-Patriots game in the old Tampa Stadium. I was eight years old and it was a life-changing experience. It was the last game of the season and the Patriots won handily, dropping the Bucs to an 0-14 record that year. To this day, I still have the ticket stub to that game.
Since that first game, I’ve seen the Patriots play in 15 NFL stadiums. Some no longer exist like the old Texas Stadium, the RCA Dome in Indianapolis and, of course, the decrepit-awful-thankfully-they-tore-it-down Foxboro Stadium. So I’m left with a bit of a dilemma whether or not to re-visit the teams playing in their new homes.
From San Diego to Atlanta to Landover, Maryland, I’ve traversed the country, following my team. I’ve encountered the friendliest of fans and the not-so-gracious ones. I’ve sat in the rain, the snow and the blistering heat. But most of all, I’ve seen some incredible games that will never be forgotten.
In 1994, I witnessed the shootout between Dan Marino and Drew Bledsoe at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami. The two quarterbacks threw a combined eight touchdowns as the Dolphins squeaked by with a victory in week one of the season.
In 2003, I was at the “intentional safety” Monday Night Football game against the Broncos at Mile High Stadium. The Pats beat the Broncos with a gutsy decision by Coach Belichick and went on to win the Super Bowl that year.
And of course, no trek is complete without a visit to historic Lambeau Field. In 2006, I saw the Patriots defeat the Packers 35-0 and witnessed, first-hand, the play of Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.
Which brings me to the 2007 season. After watching the Pats finish the regular season 16-0 and winning their two playoff games, I had a decision to make. Should I shell out a ridiculous amount of money for a Super Bowl ticket in Phoenix in order to watch history in the making? The decision was easy. The answer was yes.
I weeded through the countless scammers on eBay and found a reputable seller who was auctioning a single ticket. Two days later with ticket in hand, I made the 13-hour drive from Denver to Phoenix. Yes, I went by myself. Told you I was a diehard fan.
We all know how that game turned out and I did indeed see history in the making, just from the wrong side. The New York Giants played an outstanding game and I left the stadium dejected after witnessing one of the craziest helmet catches in the history of the sport. Hey, at least I got a free, commemorative seat cushion out of the deal.
With 17 more stadiums to go, I’m currently planning my next trip, which is looking like Arrowhead Stadium against the Chiefs in week four this year. Hopefully my trek allows me to see many more great moments in Patriots history like the ones I’ve witnessed for the past 38 years.