Fans give their all at Pats’ rally

Diehards out in droves to sup­port an­other Su­per Bowl run by Brady & Co.

Woonsocket Call - - FRONT PAGE - By JONATHAN BISSONNETTE jbis­son­[email protected]­tuck­et­

FOXBORO – For many who tra­versed through Pa­triot Place on Satur­day morn­ing, they were quick to take note of the his­tory around them. Five Su­per Bowl cham­pi­onship ban­ners hang in­side the sta­dium and the im­age of the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots’ five Lom­bardi Trophies was plas­tered to the side of the team’s Pro Shop.

While many pun­dits and prog­nos­ti­ca­tors be­lieve that the Pa­tri­ots’ dy­nasty – their run of suc­cess since the turn of the cen­tury – may be wind­ing down, the fans who at­tended Satur­day’s “Ev­ery­thing We Got” rally out­side of Gil­lette Sta­dium were look­ing for­ward to yet more vic­to­ries rather than a po­ten­tially un­sure fu­ture.

The Pa­tri­ots to­day are set to host the vis­it­ing Los An­ge­les Charg­ers in an AFC Di­vi­sional Play­off game. It’s the ninth con­sec­u­tive year in which Gil­lette Sta­dium plays host to a Di­vi­sional Play- off matchup. As a point of ref­er­ence, the last time the Pa­tri­ots did not wel­come a vis­it­ing team for a sec­ond-round play­off matchup – Jan­uary 2010 – Barack Obama had just be­gun the sec­ond year of his first term as pres­i­dent, the iPhone 4 was still five months from be­ing stocked on store shelves, “Avatar” was shat­ter­ing box of­fice records, and the Charg­ers were known as the San Diego Charg­ers.

That’s to say that much can change over the course of nine years, but it seems that few con­stants re­main – death, taxes, and the Pa­tri­ots host­ing a Di­vi­sional Week­end play­off con­test.

As for the his­tory be­tween the Pa­tri­ots and Charg­ers, these two teams have had plenty of bat­tles for yardage despite be­ing sep­a­rated by roughly 2,500 miles. The Pa­tri­ots elim­i­nated the Charg­ers in con­sec­u­tive post­sea­sons – 2007 and 2008 – and the two have squared off 11 times since the turn of the cen­tury, with the Pa­tri­ots win­ning eight times in 11 tries.

Who was the team that sur­ren­dered Tom Brady’s first ca­reer touch­down pass? The Charg­ers. Which squad snapped New Eng­land’s then 12-game win­ning streak from 2001 into 2002? The Charg­ers. Who brought the Pa­tri­ots’ 21-game home win­ning streak to an end in Oc­to­ber of 2005? You don’t need a crys­tal ball to find out. Yep, it was the Charg­ers.

The his­tory be­tween these two dates all the way back to 1960, when the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers and Bos­ton Pa­tri­ots were among the orig­i­nal eight fran­chises in the Amer­i­can Foot­ball League. The Charg­ers in 1964 won their only cham­pi­onship – AFL or NFL – when they thrashed the Pa­tri­ots, 51-10 in the league’s fourth cham­pi­onship game.

So despite play­ing on op­po­site ends of the con­ti­nent, it’s safe to say these two teams know each other quite well.

Among those who trav­eled across the coun­try, leavt­ing the 60-de­gree weather of south­ern Cal­i­for­nia for the 20s in New Eng­land, were San Diego na­tives Chris­tian Nava and Ger­man Cha­con. They proudly wore their tCharg­ers gear around Pa­triot dPlace on Satur­day af­ter­noon, the pow­der blue and gold no­tice­able among a sea of red and navy blue.

The duo landed in Bos­ton around 6 on Satur­day morn­ing and toured Pa­triot Place to fa­mil­iar­ize them­selves be­fore to­day’s tail­gate and game. How­ever, they were tquite un­pre­pared for the dchange in cli­mate, as Nava was wear­ing shorts.

“I didn’t know my face dwould get this numb this early,” Cha­con said with a laugh.

Despite the frigid tem­per­a­tures po­ten­tially pro­vid­ing a chal­lenge for their Charg­ers, the pair were plendty con­fi­dent about the team head­ing into to­day’s matchup.

“Most of (the play­ers) went to col­lege in Ohio or on the east coast,” Nava said, not­ing that the cold shouldn’t be a fac­tor in the re­sult. “I’m ex­tremely look­ing for­ward to it all. The Charg­ers fans are get­ting to­gether for a tail­gate. We’re the few unique ones.”

South At­tle­boro res­i­dent and for­mer Paw­tucket na­tive Don Bri­er­ley didn’t mind Satur­day’s tem­per­a­tures in the mid-20s or to­day’s fore­cast in the low-20s. Be­cause when you’ve braved the cold­est home game in Pa­tri­ots his­tory, ev­ery­thing else can seem like a day at the beach.

Bri­er­ley was in at­ten­dance on Jan. 10, 2004 when the Pa­tri­ots top­pled the Ten­nessee Ti­tans, 17-14, in that year’s play­offs. At four de­grees, it still stands as the most frigid home game in fran­chise his­tory. Yet while the thought of sit­ting in sin­gle-digit tem­per­a­tures sends a shiver down some spines, Bri­er­ley re­mem­bers it fondly, say­ing it’s his fa­vorite mem­ory of the Pa­tri­ots’ cur­rent run of ex­cel­lence.

“I had layer on layer on layer on layer,” Bri­er­ley re­called. “I had hand warm­ers ev­ery­where, shoe warm­ers, my mask, but I look back on it fondly.”

As for to­day’s game, he said he’s “all fired up” to watch at home with a group of fam­ily and friends. He’s fore­cast­ing a 35-30 vic­tory for the Pa­tri­ots and he’s think­ing pos­i­tive about the next round.

“Yes, I think they’re go­ing to win the Su­per Bowl,” he said.

Cha­con, mean­while, said he feels Los An­ge­les boasts a bal­anced team that could serve as a road block on New Eng­land’s path to Su­per Bowl LIII. He pre­dicted a 24-21 vic­tory for the Charg­ers, say­ing the game would be won on a last-sec­ond field goal and that the kick will “change our his­tory.”

Nava added that the game was about the Charg­ers’ tal­ent ver­sus the his­tory of the Pa­tri­ots’ dy­nasty. He also was con­fi­dent, pre­dict­ing a 24-17 win for his team.

Wayne Travis of Nor­folk, Mass. said he was look­ing for­ward to “a lit­tle fun” at the rally, as he signed his name onto a gi­ant ban­ner that will hang out­side the Pa­tri­ots’ locker room.

“I hope it’s this cold to­mor­row...” he said on Satur­day. “We have home-field ad­van­tage. It’s go­ing to be a good game.”

Travis knows a good game when he sees one. He at­tended home games for 15 years and went on the road to the Pa­tri­ots’ first three Su­per Bowl ap­pear­ances. But now, he says, he’s more likely to be found in his “man cave” than at the sta­dium on game day.

How­ever, as he’s seen the decade-plus of suc­cess for the fran­chise, he knows all good things even­tu­ally come to an end.

“I’m usu­ally very pos­i­tive but this year I’m not,” he said. “I don’t know, I didn’t get the feel­ing like I nor­mally have.”

Despite feel­ing ten­ta­tive about to­day’s game and the fran­chise’s fu­ture, he’s still call­ing for a close win – 3327 – for the home team.

“If Tom Brady wins an­other (Su­per Bowl), I think his wife will ask him to re­tire,” he said of Brady’s wife, Brazil­ian model Gisele Bund­chen. “And I don’t blame her.”

The matchup be­tween the Charg­ers and Pa­tri­ots kicks off at 1:05 p.m. to­day on your lo­cal CBS af­fil­i­ate.

Jonathan Bissonnette Photo

Mem­bers of the Pa­tri­ots’ Mili­tia were on hand for Satur­day’s rally. The two hope to be busy with their post-touch­down fes­tiv­i­ties this af­ter­noon. More in Sports, PAGE B1.

Pho­tos by Jonathan Bissonnette

Above, a bal­loon ver­sion of New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots’ quar­ter­back Tom Brady waves to fans, many of whom lined up be­hind him to win a free prize at Satur­day’s rally out­side Gil­lette Sta­dium. Below, a bal­loon ver­sion of Pa­tri­ots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski looks on as fans sign their names and well-wishes to a ban­ner that will hang out­side the team’s lock­er­room prior to to­day’s play­off game against the Charg­ers.

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