I hate leaving my home, hate interacting with people out in the world, hate the whole hullabaloo. It’s SO much easier chilling on my couch, wearing comfy clothes, feeling at absolute ease. But you can’t be a functioning adult that way, and sometimes you can’t avoid society. This is Adam Leaves His Apartment!
Have you ever had a dream, one you didn’t even realize you had, come true? It doesn’t feel real at first, like your body’s defense mechanisms go into effect to safeguard you from a potentially devastating letdown, downplaying the magnitude of your current circumstance. That was my initial reaction, at least, when I was offered the chance to attend Super Bowl LI, between the Patriots and Falcons, back in 2017. I thought, upon being INVITED TO THE SUPER BOWL, well, I don’t really have any PTO at work right now, so I probably can’t swing it. And I politely declined.
“Adam, what you meant to say was, ‘I’ll fucking make it happen,’” George, my godfather, replied incredulously, and he was right: I’d just been provided an opportunity to see the seventh Super Bowl of the Brady-Belichick era; to witness, IN PERSON, their attempt to exorcise the Deflategate demons and win an unprecedented fifth Lombardi trophy, becoming the greatest team, player and coach in football history…and I was saying no, thank you? WHAT THE HELL WAS WRONG WITH ME???
It finally clicked, as anyone who knows me personally can attest, and I was indeed at NRG Stadium in Houston when the Patriots made history as a franchise, winning an incredibly insane roller coaster of a game, and made the most unbelievable comeback in the entire history of competitive sports. I’m sitting here re-watching it now as I write this essay, because that game is my happy place, and still have no idea how they pulled it off.
As I lounged in first class on a Patriots team charter, cruising to Houston to encounter it all, I felt I’d won the grand prize in a contest I hadn’t even entered. I wasn’t just going to the Super Bowl, I was staying in the team hotel, with the players and coaches, with an endless array of activities and events to go to, with former players and BOB KRAFT himself (a very short man in Air Force Ones, I must say). Massive, delicious and complementary feasts, with numerous open bars, at different parties and rallies during the weekend leading up to the game were to be available, and best of all: a seat on the field level, on the Patriots sideline, right in front of their end zone.
It was insane, but it was a reality, and how it ended up happening was no less crazy, really. As I mentioned, I was invited on this trip and attended the game with my godfather, George, aka Mr. Dunkin’ Donuts, who was my father’s best friend for over forty years. He was there with us, in the bubble at Brigham and Women’s, the entire time we waited in vain for Dave Swierk’s recovery, and missed him as dearly as we all did (and do). Having attended three prior Patriots Super Bowls in his life, he decided he wanted to attend one more, with me, for whatever reason. Frankly, I still don’t understand how or why that was, beyond being the son of someone he loved and missed. “You deserve this, Ad,” my cousin told me when she heard I was going, and maybe he felt the same way. I don’t know, and I don’t think I ever will, but the fact remained he wanted me there regardless of why. That was good enough for me.
A shuttle was waiting for us in Houston upon landing, on the tarmac, as us VIPs with the Patriots organization were whisked into the city. A welcome cocktail party was flowing when we arrived at the hotel, which was barricaded off from the general public. Dozens upon dozens of police officers lined the barricades, the entrances, and various locales in and around the hotel, ensuring the utmost safety of the inhabitants inside from any dangers or interlopers. We were required to wear our VIP name badges at all times, risking banishment without them, and were revered by the surrounding fans who hoped for a chance to spot or interact with their football heroes. On three occasions, in fact, I was asked to give an autograph, mistaken for a random lineman or practice squad player that no one recognized (no, I didn’t sign anything for anyone, but yes, I totally should have).
I was struck by the superb level of organization and detail set forth by the Patriots organization. It showed that this was old hat for the franchise and their marketing department, as everything went smoothly and wonderfully. A sort of ho hum demeanor permeated as well, not in a way that diminished the trip or the game, but in a way that made clear: the job wasn’t done. In the middle of the lobby, sitting on a table alone, was the Lamar Hunt AFC Championship trophy. It wasn’t secured or fawned over or even remotely cared about. It was just a decoration, something the team and the Krafts had little use for; the only trophy that mattered came later.
The days leading up to the game, since we had flown in on Thursday morning, were a whirlwind. On the first night, we attended a welcome party at some random Texas honky tonk, where supposedly famous country groups performed, a smorgasbord of BBQ and Tex Mex was available, and I drank several glasses of Crown Royal XR on the rocks. As we stood there, chowing on brisket and mac and cheese, Bob and Jonathan Kraft walked by and hung out a few feet away, waiting to go up to greet us all in attendance.
We spent several hours each day sauntering through the Super Bowl Live area, beside the Toyota Center and Tropicana Field, where thousands of football fans from around the country gathered. We blew off a free Bruno Mars concert Friday night (not really free, but included with our trip) to enjoy a lovely three hour meal at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle, enjoying some of the finest steak and wine I’ve ever tasted…have I thanked you for this trip and experience, George Z? Because THANK YOU can’t be said enough.
On Friday night, as we headed back to our room, who should saunter onto the elevator with us but Gronk himself. I stood there, face to face with Rob Gronkowski, the greatest Tight End to ever touch a football, struck by how puny he made me feel. I’m not a small human, but compared to Gronk? No contest. George, naturally, gave him a high five and asked if the team was ready. “OH yeah,” he replied, which George brought up as proof of a guaranteed Pats win throughout the weekend.
We saw Gronk again, on stage this time, at a fan rally Saturday afternoon, which he hosted along with Pats great Kevin Faulk, and, of course, the Krafts. We were all stoked, rabid and jacked up for the game the next day, eager to see our boys give a middle finger to Roger Goodell and win their fifth ring. We were sufficiently rallied, in other words, and with just over 24 hours until kickoff, George and I chose a calm night before the following day’s storm.
The five hours between waking up Sunday and arriving at the stadium were torture, so I drank a few beers (pre-pregame) while we waited for the first shuttle to take us to NRG Park. Upon arrival at the stadium, we waited twenty more minutes until the gates actually opened, and we stopped by a tailgate party for Patriots fans, where food galore and another open bar awaited us. The Patriots cheerleaders greeted folks, the University of Houston marching band was playing, and several former Pats players mingled. To call the atmosphere electric feels like an understatement, because the buzz was INSANE.
I took several unopened Michelob Ultra bottles from the rally and into the stadium itself (as we had gone through security already), and tried desperately to take it all in. I would never experience anything like this, or attend another Patriots Super Bowl, in my lifetime, and it was paramount that I made the most of it all. I was riding a wave of emotions I can’t really articulate, given my lifelong connection to the sport as a fan and former player, and knew things could only get better as my eyes gazed the field for the first time. I was at the Super Bowl, about to witness my favorite team go for glory. How could anything go wrong from here?
Check back next weekend for Part 2 of Adam Leaves His Apartment…for Super Bowl LI!