A few years ago, Val and I made a good friend at training camp. After connecting over a mutual love of taking football photographs, he offered us tickets to the annual in-stadium practice the Patriots hold for season ticket holders and Foxborough residents. Every year since then, he has kept us in mind if he finds himself with extra tickets.
Well, this year he had extra tickets and naturally, we told him we would take them off his hands.
Before I delve into all the juicy details, you’re probably wondering why Val looks so different in the picture above. Well, I fired her.
(We all know that would never happen. She’s done so much for me, she’s got dibs on my first 14 kids.)
Sadly, she just couldn’t get her butt up to Massachusetts in time. Lame.
Luckily, my amazing friend and Snap super-fan Laura went out of her way to make sure I didn’t have to sit alone at practice. (When a friend makes a rush-hour trek from north of the city to Foxborough, you realize she probably has dibs on your 15th child, but I digress.)
This year, the in-stadium practice was held on Wednesday, August 5. The Patriots Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Willie McGinest was held immediately before the practice right outside the stadium.
For those of us in the stadium, the ceremony was broadcast on the large screens. My favorite moment was when Mr. Kraft presented Willie, who played for the Pats from 1994 to 2005, with a ceremonial one-day contract so he could retire as part of the team.
Practice started at the conclusion of the ceremony. Per usual, the night kicked off with some brief special teams work and then team stretching.
Love the “buddy stretching” between 27 and 53.
Besides seeing the players up close, one of my favorite parts of the in-stadium practice is getting the opportunity to sit in seats that most of us can’t usually afford for a regular season game. Case in point – Laura and I sat in the first row near the fifty yard line on the visitor’s side of the stadium, which allowed for some excellent photographs. (Usually this is Val’s domain. I did the best I could without her, but she always seems to capture some pretty great moments.)
Early on in the night, we also got a close glimpse of Coach Belichick and coaching staff assistant Mike Lomardi. Bill – this could have been a great picture if you hadn’t blinked. We’ll try again next year.
A strong contender for most photogenic player of the night was RB LeGarrette Blount. Dude is always cheesin’.
One of the other perks of attending the in-stadium practice is that an announcer intermittently explains what’s happening on the field. The running commentary on the drills and the purpose behind them can be really helpful.
The definite highlight of my night was when the quarterbacks moved closer to our section of the stands. One very loud fan (he was a grown man, shocking, I know) started yelling Tom’s name to get his attention. Brady kept a straight face until the fan offered to buy him a frozen lemonade and for some reason, that comment cracked through Brady’s facade. With a big grin on his face, Brady started laughing and shaking his head. (I didn’t quite capture the moment on camera because it was so unexpected and I was laughing as well.) It was nice to see a human moment like that from one of the most high-profile athletes in the country, especially considering the stress of the Deflategate debacle.
I can’t complain about much, but if I had to make one recommendation to the event organizers, it would be to move the VIP on-field seating, or escort some players behind the VIP seating to the fans in the stands when it comes time for autographs.
I recommend the in-stadium practice to friends looking to get autographs because, unlike regular training camp practices, almost all the players are allowed to sign at the conclusion of practice. Your chances of getting an autograph are pretty good, even if it’s from a guy who may not make the final cut. Unfortunately, our section and many of the sections of the visitor’s side were directly behind VIP on-field seating. The people in those seats rushed all of the players in that area, keeping many of them from reaching the plebeians in general seating. Sorry if it sounds like I drank some Hater-ade this morning (I’m sure some of those VIPs were very deserving), but I can’t tell you how disappointed some of the kids next to me were.
Although Gronk and LeGarrette looked like promising autograph signers for my section, they didn’t quite make it over. We did get FB Eric Kettani (who was sadly released today in order for the Reggie Wayne signing to happen) and TE Scott Chandler.
Also, the autograph portion of the night showed what a better person Laura is than me. She moved up to the second row so that some little kids could have her first row spot. I stuck it out in the first row, not necessarily wanting an autograph, but definitely not ready to give up prime real estate for short people who don’t even have all of their adult teeth. (Was it wrong of me to judge them when they didn’t even recognize Scott Chandler? He was only one of the MOST EXCITING SIGNINGS OF THE OFF-SEASON. Kids these days…)
I also may or may not have been the ringleader of some aggressive player name chanting.
All in all, I would call the night a success – great company, beautiful weather, and all the football drills a girl could ask for. Can’t wait for next year!