My One-Way Trip to Planet Patriots

Before Tom Brady showed up on the NFL scene, I went to the movies on Super Bowl Sunday to avoid the peak of football consumption. When Super Bowl XXXVI rolled around, I was glued to the tube after developing a fascination with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots during the playoffs. During Super Bowl XXXVIII, I was wearing a Patriots jersey, a Super Bowl hat, and a Patriots symbol painted on my face. And I was miraculously in section 319 of Reliant Stadium watching one of the greatest games in NFL history (even though my direct knowledge of that history is sketchy at best). My husband Bruce had been a diehard fan for some time. Our goal had been to attend a New England game at some at some point during the Tom Brady era. We had at least a decade to achieve our dream, but it was fulfilled unexpectedly and beyond its initial perimeters thanks to my close friend Mike O’Malley. O’Malley plays Jimmy on a CBS TV series called Yes, Dear. He has also done commercials as “The Rick” on ESPN. He is also a massive New England Patriots fan. One of his greatest joys is to share the good fortunes he has in his life as an actor.

As innkeepers in New Hampshire, we don’t get to travel much. It had to be fate that intervened with Mike’s invitation popped up on my computer screen immediately following an email canceling a meditation retreat because they didn’t have enough people signed up. Even though it seemed unlikely that we would find anyone to care for our three kids on such short notice while we jetted off to Houston, the chance of a lifetime trip to the Super Bowl was worth any effort.

I found Bruce emerging from the women’s bathroom wearing rubber gloves, holding a toilet scrubber in one hand and some toilet bowl cleaner in the other. I managed to pause to behold the beautiful sight of my husband taking on the hardcore tasks before I burst out with the news. He needed confirmation and time to digest. NFL Today and Monday Night Football are Bruce’s place of worship. The Patriots had been his team for some time. We had just hit the Patriots fan’s jackpot.

After we put the kids to bed, we were dueling at the computers to get our plans organized. I assumed Bruce was on my track of trying to solve all the most important things like car and hotel or emailing around to find kid care, but I was wrong. In the middle of solving a snag in our plans, he interrupted me with, “Do you want a jersey or should we get the Patriots fan kit?” I was aghast. It was a time sensitive situation with many details to nail down, and he was shopping on line for swag he would wear to the game. Yes, I would wear a Tom Brady or Willie McGinest jersey when my backside was firmly planted in Reliant Stadium with the deal sealed. However, there were many things to sweat before that happened. Drifty Bruce was working on his outfit for not only the game but also for the airplane ride. It was clear that I would be flying to Houston with Captain football geek fan — a forty-year-old 5’9″, 155 pound armchair quarterback, armchair coach, armchair running back, armchair receiver, armchair safety, armchair lineman and armchair commentator. I also knew he would be living in that jersey from the moment it arrived until we returned from Houston. He chose #37 — Rodney Harrison. The supplies were dwindling while he was on the Patriots Pro Shop web site, and I caused him to miss his size while I was questioning his priorities.

Needless to say a slightly too large Rodney Harrison jersey was on his back before we had confirmed any of our plans. Thankfully he passed on the fan kit with the coffee mug, calendar and other crap. I guess I should have also been thankful that he had the jersey rather than him being naked from the waist up with the Patriots symbol painted across his chest.

I used to escape and be off working in the far stretches of Pierce’s Inn during the long hours of football games with other teams playing. Bruce would still search me out so I could join him for tears on the couch watching interviews like the one with Trent Green and his coach Dick Vermiel. He would insist that I put down the stack of sheets, the rubber gloves or the spatula to come watch replays of amazing moments of the NFL. I had not been a consistent football fan, but I always saddled up on the football couch when Tom Brady and the Patriots were doing their thing. I was also fond of any personal story with drippy music and slow motion game footage. I have shed a lot of tears during those player profile pieces. I also couldn’t get enough of the various crews of bantering former players and commentators when they were talking about the New England Patriots. Chris Berman cannot be resisted with his enthusiastic and humorous approach to laying out the highlights about any team. Even before I set up residence on Planet Patriots, I knew way too much about football for someone who was not fully invested in the sport.

During the three days after our plans were solidified, Bruce had motivation to get our innkeeping work done. He was captain tidy bowl, laundry man extraordinaire, parenting champion and task achiever like I have never seen. Unfortunately, this started to wane when he became more and more distracted by articles in The Boston Globe, Super Bowl web sites, making his Super Bowl mixed CD, radio shows like Mike and Mike in the Morning, TV pieces on the Super Bowl and any other printed material on the Super Bowl. I could see the look in his eye as he wondered how he could have been so clever to marry a woman who would one day connect him to someone who had the power to take him to the Super Bowl with the Patriots playing.

It took energy to live with a guy in a Patriots jersey all day every day. While I was busy getting a meal organized, reading to the kids or working while the kids were playing, Bruce would drift off into his imaginary NFL world acting out plays as Tom Brady wearing Harrison’s jersey (demonstrating his versatility as a player). He assumed an athletic position with his legs rotated so he could jog back, look for an open receiver, and fire the imaginary wonder pass. Whenever he came upon one of the kids’ footballs he would pick up the ball, yell out the snap count and pretend to blast it off to Troy Brown, David Givens, Deion Branch or Bethel Johnson. He would get this cocky head swagger and strut after the touchdown. It was funny the first few times, but I was ready for a regular old button down shirt and a little more focus on the here and now.

“OHHH NOOOO,” he gasped. I ran to the kitchen assuming one of our kids was choking or a fire had started on the stove. Instead I found him backed up from the table displaying the nearly devastating evidence of partially chewed food smeared on his jersey. The old quarterback was so lost in thought about his next play, that food dropped out of his mouth onto the sacred cloth. When I suggested that he throw the jersey in the wash, he scolded me for considering such sacrilege. He did a careful spot cleaning and stored the jersey up high until he had finished his carbo-loading for his next series. To get anything done around here I had to skirt around this man in a jersey jogging, shifting, cutting and sprinting around the kitchen. The kids didn’t even notice this as odd. They continued their conversations with him while he scooted around. Then they started to scoot around.

A couple days before we left, our five-year-old boy, Zander, started crying, “Daddy, my nipple hurts.” Bruce had a look at the source of pain and explained that it wasn’t his nipple but a rib at least five inches away from the closest nipple. Zander howled because it hurt so much, and he didn’t know how or when he got hurt. Bruce took him into his arms and snuggled him close and launched into the story of Donovan McNabb’s injured ribs in the playoff game. He prattled on about how McNabb was able to play a few more series without feeling pain because he was so into the game and devoted to winning, but later the pain set in. And on he went with unrelated details. Bruce’s passion about McNabb’s story distracted Zander from his own injury so completely that he became lost in the plight of McNabb and started asking concerned questions about McNabb’s season, his recovery and the future for the Eagles. We didn’t hear about Zander’s rib injury again.

By the time Bruce and I were packing our bags to be Mike O’Malley’s squash-ons for Super Bowl XXXVIII, we were already exhausted but completely fired up. A committed fan and his wife (who had only recently started to not only understand but respect the nuances of football) were off to Houston. My passionate reading of articles about Tom Brady during his first two years had helped beef up my general knowledge. In fact, when I got a little tired of the cut, jog and pass routines that Bruce had going, I fantasized about the real Tom Brady taking the snap in our kitchen. I could picture him stepping back sideways in that slow slightly pigeon toe way of his and calmly making a complete pass across the box of Cheerios. If Bruce didn’t take it down a notch on his football obsession, I was going to put a bid in for Tom Brady as my number one pick in the husband draft. Tom Lusty Big Gun Brady could call out plays, make touchdowns and scoot around my house all he wanted. I am certain Brady’s combination of athletic talent, sex appeal, and humility is at the highest level to ever grace professional sports. Even though he is a very special guy, I don’t think Brady could make pesto pasta or roasted potatoes just the way Bruce does so the kids love them. And he certainly couldn’t clean toilets half as thoroughly as my co-innkeeper. And he could not possibly be as spontaneously hilarious as my man Bruce. I decided to keep my cut-jog-pass guy around, but I considered hiding that jersey once a week to reduce the playmaking, so we could get some work done.

So Mr. Super Bowl Big Stuff Bruce and I were in Reliant Stadium for the huge game. On top of the history-making game, the human study of the whole weekend was a feast. Patriots fans outnumbered Panther’s fans by the ten thousands. I was part of this great pulse of fans that was channeling great vibes and positive energy to Tom Brady and the Pats. After the dramatic win and our tears were wiped away, I got the strong sense that Bruce held this experience up there with the births of our three kids. Secretly it may have been more of a mind-blowing event for him, but he wouldn’t fess up to that. Imagine his depression on the plane ride home on Monday after it was all over. Or Tuesday when he took our two-year-old Colter to gymnastics and had to roll around in the chalky Styrofoam filled pit with a bunch of snotty nose rascals. Or on Wednesday when he returned from his Super Bowl report at Rotary to the joy of vacuuming. I hoped that jersey would retain its power for him for a few days. At least you take home a baby after it is born. The good news is that the jersey wouldn’t be waking us up at night.

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