This article was originally published on Josh’s blog, which can be accessed here.
Whilst plotting the itinerary for our US sports tour, Boston was quickly pencilled into the trip.
And it didn’t disappoint.
First and foremost – Lynchy’s a passionate New England fan and the Patriots are based in Foxboro, only a 20-minute drive from downtown Boston.
But other than just the lure of seeing the Tom Brady-led Patriots, Boston has numerous other iconic sporting teams that inhibit the city.
The Celtics have won an NBA-best 17 titles and despite their current ‘rebuilding’ situation, the history was evident as soon as we entered their facility – more on that later, though.
Perhaps more famous than the Celtics are the Red Sox, who play their home games at the world famous Fenway Park.
Every large city in the USA has numerous local colleges in the area and Boston is no different, with the Golden Eagles of Boston College located only minutes from the city centre.
Entering ‘Bean Town’ as it is affectionately called, our expectations were unfairly high after experiencing the raucous atmosphere at Century Link Field in Seattle.
For other reasons, the greater Boston area more than lived up to the hype!
Our first stop was Fenway Park to meet the head of international recruiting for the Red Sox, Eddie Romero. Eddie was gracious with his time and made the effort to show us the entire complex known as Fenway.
With the Major League Baseball World Series currently in action, the Red Sox players and coaches were on vacation, but entering the playing arena at Fenway was a surreal feeling – even for a non-baseball fan. Those who visit Fenway immediately notice the huge wall in the left-hand side outfield – nicknamed the Green Monster.
The turf was in immaculate condition despite play having wrapped up for season 2014. After taking in the Green Monster, the other thing that’s evident whilst walking around the ball park is the tradition and age of the facilities.
Eddie explained to us how the team owner and the executive team always hoped to savour the history of the stadium so everything that can be kept in tact is. The seats are as old as the hills and the players dug-out is the smallest in the league, despite the Red Sox’s monstrous budget. It’s exactly the way the Sox want things, and all who experience a game at Fenway love the surroundings.
Housing some of the world’s most expensive athletes, going behind the scenes at Fenway Park was certainly different to what many would anticipate. But listening to the reasoning from Eddie and hearing the history of the arena, it all made perfect sense.
Watching from afar this season, Thursday Night Football in the NFL had been a significant disappointment.
Sitting alone as a Nationally televised match, most had been extreme blowouts, resulting in concerns from fans regarding TNF’s future.
So, for us to be attending a TNF game was a worry, but all the ingredients were there for a night to remember;
– Tom being a huge Patriots fan meant he would go home happy, no matter what.
– New England were facing the New York Jets, a divisional rival which meant the stakes were high despite the Jets’ lowly status.
– We had arranged to meet former Patriots Super Bowl-winning safety, Lawyer Milloy.
– Hiring a car and driving out with the crowd and walking around the tail gate would be an experience in itself.
‘much to our delight, ‘Gronk’ described us as crazy for competing in our sport without wearing pads.’
Arriving at the complex known as Patriot Place – thanks to owner Robert Kraft – our excitement was out of control. Both of us headed directly to the Patriots team store and stocked up on gear so we fitted in nicely amongst the 70,000 fans, most rooting for the Pats.
We were able to get our hands on excellent seats and the entire match – including the pre-game entertainment and national anthem – was a huge show. Again, we were lucky enough to secure pre-game on-field passes and being literally within metres of champions like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Darrelle Revis was yet another extremely humbling experience.
So, as of 8pm eastern at Foxboro, we had met three Superbowl winning players, been on-field to see Brady and co warm-up and the game was still to come.
As always, the US anthem was sung with gusto and every person inside Gillette Stadium stood and cheered as the anthem concluded and a returning US soldier was introduced to the crowd.
The patriotism and respect the American people show for the people who serve in their military is remarkable and something we as Australians could replicate.
Finally, 8.25pm rolled around and the Jets kicked off as Brady and his Patriot offence began the game. Three snaps later, Brady found back-up running back Shane Vereen for a huge 50-yard touchdown which had the home fans in hysterics.
I noticed Lynchy wasn’t quite as emphatic in his support of the Pats as I had expected. I questioned him as to why and he simply said he was overawed being at his favourite team’s arena.
He may also have been overcome with anticipation as Lawyer had informed us of the potential to meet some players post-game – providing they won, of course.
Early in the game, New England were all over their rivals and things were looking rosy for an after-match meet and greet. We had even purchased Patriot jerseys just in case we stumbled across a big-time player whose jersey we could hang on the wall when we got home.
‘as we sheepishly entered Tom Brady’s room, we bumped into his Brazilian supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen.’
As the game progressed the Pats seemed in control, but Rex Ryan’s Jets loomed large as they regularly moved the ball down-field with ease.
Brady was in great form as he found Vereen for another touchdown and set up receiver Danny Amendola for what looked to be the game-sealing score.
However, New York quarterback Geno Smith had other ideas and with just over a minute remaining, the Jets had the ball and trailed by just two points – a successful field-goal would win it.
So, as Pats fans agonised over every extra yard the Jets earned, it looked like Smith would lead his under-performing team to the unlikeliest of wins.
With five seconds remaining, kicker Nick Folk had a 53-yard attempt to steal the win and as he struck the ball the Patriots defenders were able to block the kick and save the game.
The stadium erupted as the Patriots home-game winning streak extended, whilst Tom and I were elated as we knew we now had a shot at meeting the players.
Sure enough, after tracking down Lawyer, he led us underneath the grandstands and walked us past the waiting families as players slowly appeared from the change rooms.
Our first run-in was with All-Pro defensive back Darrelle Revis. I was surprised at his small stature but his career has been Hall of Fame worthy and he was nice enough to have a brief chat with us.
Lawyer explained that we needed to keep moving so we walked past the other families and soon enough, we bumped into a mountain of a man – Rob Gronkowski. Standing at 6’7″ and weighing more than 120kgs, the ‘Gronk’ was an imposing figure.
Lawyer kindly explained to him what we did ‘Down Under’ and much to our delight, Gronk described us as crazy for competing in our sport without wearing pads.
Lastly, Lawyer had a real treat for us – we were headed to Tom Brady’s private room. Tom and I were both trying to control unexplainable excitement and as we sheepishly entered his room, we immediately bumped into his Brazilian supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen. She was very bubbly and had a quick chat with us before asking us whether we had met her husband.
And after making his way past his close friends and family, Lawyer introduced Brady to us and we had a few minutes to chat with him.
We asked him questions about what he does away from football and he asked us about what we do. He asked whether he would be a ‘big dude’ in our sport and said he vaguely knew about our game – describing us as beasts – as we both bristled with excitement.
No sooner than having met him was it time for him and Gisele to get their young children home. Promptly, Lynchy requested a signature on his No.12 Patriot jersey and as I almost allowed Tommy to have his moment with his idol, I decided to throw my Brady jersey on the table, too. Brady gladly signed them both for us and we quickly grabbed a photo.
It was truly a remarkable experience and something neither of us will forget in a hurry. Everyone including Tom Brady was so accommodating to Tom and I – including the Patriots’ front office ladies who included us in Lawyer’s pre-game activities.
Special mention must go to Lawyer Milloy – a championship winning NFL veteran who took time out of his night to give Tom and I the guided tour of the Patriots and introduce us to legends of the sport. Lawyer was unbelievably kind and we almost felt embarrassed handing him a Crows guernsey as a thank you.
Our night in chilly Foxboro will go down as one of the greatest nights we will ever have – such is the intensity we follow the sport with.
Topping our night at Foxboro was always going to be tough, but after a flurry of football, our next destination was something I looked forward to. Through new AFL sponsors, Gatorade, we were able to link up with the Boston Celtics’ head of strength and conditioning, Brian Doo.
We spent three hours inside the Celtics practice facility, meeting players and talking about what makes their athletes so great and what AFL players regularly do that Brian could introduce to his group. Tom and I were both dressed casually and were coming off four hours sleep after the Patriots game, but Brian had us doing NBA style exercises to get a feel for his regime.
In the hours we spent with Brian, it was crystal clear that he had an extremely strong passion for what he did and despite dealing with notoriously hard to deal with athletes, Brian was the boss in his gym.
He had each player working on their specific weakness, despite it being a players’ day off.
Veteran forward Gerald Wallace was on the massage table having his knee assessed whilst young big men Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger did on-court workouts. Brian allowed us to watch all aspects of what the players were doing and despite the clear differences in the requirements of NBA athletes compared to AFL athletes, it was a great thing to witness.
Brian also explained how he was regularly in touch with Port Adelaide fitness guru Darren Burgess and whilst he thanked us for coming through, he explained he had to stick with Port Adelaide.
We will win him over!
Like everybody we had come across so far in the USA, people were more than willing to give us some of their time to explain what they did on a daily basis.
They may never know our appreciation for seeing inside the walls of such mammoth organisations.
From the entire experience of the Jets and Patriots game, visiting the Celtics, touring Fenway Park and meeting the Pats players – Boston was a destination we will always love, thanks to the welcoming people at the teams we visited.
Feature image via Flickr – Mark Fletcher