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Patriot Nation

Fans make Houston their latest trip destination

Bob Kovacev of Malden (front) got into the Texas spirit by wearing his distinctive cowboy hat on the plane to Houston as he enjoyed a laugh with Mark Capozzi (left) of Windham, N.H., and fellow New England travelers.

Jessica Rinaldi for The Boston Globe

Bob Kovacev of Malden (front) got into the Texas spirit by wearing his distinctive cowboy hat on the plane to Houston as he enjoyed a laugh with Mark Capozzi (left) of Windham, N.H., and fellow New England travelers.

HOUSTON — The cowboy hat seemed to fit in with the garb on the rest of the tailgaters gathered outside Reliant Stadium, but the Patriots logo on the front told otherwise.

Bob Kovacev, who hails from Malden, Mass., has worn his custom headgear with pride for more than a decade. He and several friends from New England have traveled to one Patriots road game in each of the past 16 seasons. The group ventures to a different city each year, and a trip to Dallas in the late 1990s netted Kovacev his unique hat.

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“It was a big hit last year in Nashville, too,” he said.

The traveling party, made up mainly of Patriots season ticket-holders, has seen the team play from coast to coast. These fans brought artificial snow to Oakland in 2002, drawing the ire of Raiders fans still hurt by the infamous “Tuck Rule” some 10 months earlier in the playoffs. Other stops have included Green Bay, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.

“It’s been a fun ride,” said Al Capozzi of Windham, N.H. “We’ve been to some great cities and met some great people.”

Pleasant weather and a good matchup are typically the main criteria when choosing a location each year, and Houston didn’t disappoint.

With the smell of barbecue wafting through the air and country music booming in the background, Capozzi and his son, Mark, relished their surroundings. It was nearly 70 degrees well before noon, a stark contrast to the frigid conditions of last Sunday’s game in Foxborough, Mass.

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“It’s better than back home,” said Mark Capozzi, pleased to be wearing just one layer.

Of course, warmth wasn’t the only thing that had these New Englanders in good spirits. They praised Houstonians for their generosity and marveled at a few neighboring tailgates that featured double-decker buses complete with big-screen TVs and even bigger trays of food.

Yes, everything is bigger in Texas.

“It’s amazing, I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Al Capozzi, a Patriots season ticket-holder for 14 seasons.

It didn’t take long for Southern hospitality to rub off on these Patriots fans, either. Not long after setting up shop, they invited Texans supporters to join in the fun.

“These are the nicest Boston people I’ve ever met,” said Houston native Lauren Poindexter.

Deep in the heart of Texas, it was a weekend Kovacev and the Capozzis likely never will forget.

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