Aaron Gouveia remembers the Patriots in the old Sullivan Stadium—“a craptastic team in a rundown pit of a stadium.” But through the years, through the generations, he’s loved every minute of it.
When I went to my first Celtics game I took in the cramped confines of the beautifully antiquated Boston Garden in a fit of parquet wonder. And every Boston kid remembers the day he first laid eyes on the lyric little bandbox of a ballpark that is Fenway Park. The grass impossibly green, Pesky’s Pole flashing down like a lightning bolt in right field, and the Green Monster looming in left. Both the Garden and Fenway are marvels—resplendent in every way and rich in unique history—that leave you slack-jawed and awestruck.
Sullivan Stadium—where I took in my first New England Patriots game—was none of those things.
Simply put, it was a shithole. It was built in 1971 for a paltry price of $7 million, and one look at it explained why. No luxury boxes, no real club seats to speak of, and not a frill to be seen anywhere. There was ugly concrete as far as the eye could see, and fans were treated to aluminum benches with no backs. Think I’m exaggerating? Well, before the first preseason game all of the toilets overflowed—a sign of things to come regarding the team’s on-the-field fortunes. But hey, considering the Patriots were forced to play at various Boston stadiums (Fenway, Boston College, Harvard) because they were the redheaded stepchild of the Boston sports scene for years, at least they finally had a home of their own.
Back then you couldn’t give Patriots tickets away because no one wanted to watch a craptastic team play in a rundown pit of a stadium with their asses frozen to an aluminum bench. But even though Sullivan Stadium couldn’t hold a candle to the Garden and Fenway, it was OUR place. Every Sunday, these guys and that place were ours. For better or worse. Almost always worse. It wasn’t flashy and it certainly wasn’t trendy, but we loved it. In the cold, in the rain, in the snow. We were there because the Patriots were our thing.
My dad has had season tickets for 40 years, which means I’ve been going to games since the age of 6. My first memories of Patriots games are blurred by time and a child’s initial disinterest in a sport he didn’t yet understand. I remember walking from our super secret parking spot outside of the stadium, through the woods, and across the railroad tracks. I went with my dad and his high school buddies, and it was great because they talked to me like a big kid. I heard them swear, which was undeniably cool. And, as it turns out, good preparation for what I’d hear when I got inside the stadium.
The stadium. End zone. Section 1. Row 11. I loved that piece of crap and the absolutely insane blue collar maniacs who populated it. And I loved being there with my dad because he simultaneously taught me about football as well as the unwritten rules of being a good football fan. Like never bring a sign, beach balls are an affront, only idiots do The Wave, never leave until it’s over, and while it’s acceptable to criticize the team when warranted you’re NEVER allowed to abandon ship. Ever. Under any circumstances.
My dad’s grandfather took him to his first Patriots game in the 1960s. My dad took me in the mid-1980s. And last week, my dad and I took my 5-year-old son Will to Gillette Stadium (a decidedly more aesthetic if not more mellow place compared to Sullivan Stadium), marking the first time three generations of Gouveia men have attended a game together.
It doesn’t matter that he only made it through the third quarter or that his favorite parts of the game experience were watching the ball get kicked and ogling the cheerleaders. What matters is he was there with me and my dad, because now he’s part of the club. Sure the Patriots fortune has shifted dramatically since the dark days when I first began attending games, but that’s not the point.
No matter what happens in the future—no matter how wrong things can go between us—the one thing I know I’ll always be able to talk about and come back to is the Patriots.
My dad still follows the team like a little kid, getting over the moon with wins and taking losses personally. My brother and I are equally fanatic. My brother, who moved to Delaware to get married and become a father, is a perfect example of what I’m talking about here. When we found out he was moving we were pretty bummed. Mainly because Sundays would never be the same. But the Patriots are so important to us that we made my (very understanding) sister-in-law sign a document that states Nate will be able to return home for at least two regular season games as well as our fantasy football draft.
Seriously. In addition to missing us and his nephews, my brother comes back to us several times a year specifically because of the Patriots. They are a tie that binds and a thread that weaves together generations. They give each of us signature moments and distinct memories that can never be replicated. They spawn phone calls before, during, and after games — calls that may start with football but inevitably lead to conversations about life, work, and family. We already stay in touch, but the Patriots make sure we stay connected.
Although he doesn’t fully understand it, Will is officially a part of that now. One day Sam (and my niece, Avery) will be a part of it too. He’ll have memories of kickoffs in freezing cold, thrilling overtime wins, and crushing defeats. And associated with each memory will be his dad, grandpa, and (as often as possible) Uncle Nate.
When Tom Brady retires in a few years and Bill Belichick is gone, so too will a large percentage of the post-2001 bandwagon. The team will get worse—actually, they’ll probably be terrible at that point. But we’ll still be there. Grousing and complaining? Sure. But also enjoying each other’s company and catching up on life. And never forgetting Sunday lessons in loyalty, passion, and perseverance—lessons that will absolutely influence other parts of my son’s life just as they have mine.
photo courtesy of author