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The Boston Globe

Sports

Fans have lots of fun in the stadium’s last row

Though Nicole Frisk (left) confesses to a fear of heights, one benefit of sitting in the last row is being able to steal a kiss (with Ryan Parish) with no one watching.

Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Though Nicole Frisk (left) confesses to a fear of heights, one benefit of sitting in the last row is being able to steal a kiss (with Ryan Parish) with no one watching.

Most people would love to sit in the fancy front-row seats at sports events and be like Jack Nicholson.

Joe Lamonica wants to sit in the very last row and just be himself.

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And he’s not alone.

The Globe scoured the back rows at recent Bruins and Celtics games at TD Garden and a Patriots game at Gillette Stadium. We found happiness up there. Most everybody puts a positive spin on being far away from the action.

“This is where the real fans are,” says Lamonica, 27, of Lynnfield.

Yes, they are far away, but according to the roughly 100 fans interviewed, there are advantages to their position. Nobody yells, “Down in front,” at them. Nobody spills beer on them. Nobody digs knees into their backs. Back-row fans say it’s easier to see plays develop, and they don’t need a second mortgage to pay the ticket prices.

They’re also closer to God, and they can even steal a kiss without being remiss.

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So who are these people up here in the highlands? They’re people from Malden and Moscow, Scituate and South Korea, all with a passion for the game.

Lamonica is a marine engineer. At this Bruins game, he wears a Milan Lucic jersey in Row 15, the back row of Section 317 at TD Garden, where he sits with his girlfriend, Amanda Davis.

Isn’t it the goal of most people to get in the first row?

“Nah,” Lamonica says with a smile. “I sat in the second row for a Bruins game. It was fun but you can’t see anything down there. You can’t see the game.”

That was a 2008 game in which Lucic slammed Toronto’s Mike Van Ryn through the glass.

“I didn’t move, I didn’t react,” says Lamonica. “I’m watching and I had my mouth open and the glass shatters.

“I got whacked in the shoulder by Mike Van Ryn’s stick and I got glass in my mouth. It didn’t taste too good. I was spitting it out for a while.’’

Now he’s a season ticket-holder whose seats are more than 215 feet from center ice. That’s nearly six times the height of Fenway Park’s Green Monster.

“I’ve moved [backward] a couple of times,” he says.

The broken glass had nothing to do with it; the goal was to get in the last row.

“You don’t have tunnel vision,” he says. “You can see the whole ice. I’ll never move.’’

Davis says it’s a grittier crowd up here.

“It’s a different crowd from down below,” she says. “People sneak in liquor a lot. It’s a rougher crowd. More four-letter words being tossed around.”

Jason Monteiro, 37, an Ipswich police officer, is way up behind the Bruins goal with his son Alex, 8. He knew beforehand that the seats, given to him by a friend, were in the last row.

“I thought I’m probably not going to see much,” says Monteiro. “But after being here, I’m pretty happy about the seat.”

He used to go to Bruins games in Boston Garden, where the Gallery Gods would stand in the last row of the second balcony to see.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” he says. “I loved the old Garden — when the Bruins scored, the building was shaking, you felt it. But the view here is really nice. It makes up for it.”

Annie Hentschel, 16, of Needham is in Section 327. Her brother is going to be playing between periods as part of the Bruins’ “Three Minutes of Fame” promotion. Their parents bought 50 tickets and their kids get to play hockey during intermission.

Hentschel doesn’t mind sitting in what are known as “the nosebleeds.”

“I know what it means,” she says proudly. “That you’re so high up that the air is thin and it dries out your nose and it bleeds or something like that.”

A real hike for football

At Gillette Stadium, just getting to Row 26 in the 300 level is an accomplishment.

“Welcome to the top of the world,” says Kelsey Engelbrecht, a Harvard-educated criminal defense lawyer seated atop Section 311 with her boyfriend.

Getting here is not for the faint of heart.

“Walking at three miles per hour, it takes 8-10 minutes to reach the top of the northeast ramp, which is 1,820 feet long and rises 180 feet from the plaza below,” according to the Gillette Stadium website.

Then there’s a short staircase to climb and then 26 rows to the back. It’s good training for scaling Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts at 3,491 feet above sea level.

Craig Derkrikorian wears a leather Patriots helmet in the 26th row of Section 306. He hates watching the games on TV.

“The wife’s at home so she’s yelling at you,” he says. “I have to pause the game and go fix something like the faucet. Then come back and play the game again. Here, nobody bothers me.”

He is warned that publishing his words could cause him trouble.

“That’s OK, I’m used to it,” says the Hudson, N.H., computer software salesman. “That’s why I wear this old leather helmet. That way, when she throws something at me, it bounces off. She only throws spatulas.”

Dave Arel of Agawam has been a season ticket-holder for 10 years. He sits in Section 304, with Linda St. Laurent.

“I tell everybody I got the warmest seats in the house,” says Arel. “Why? Because I’m the closest to the sun.’’

He even claims the concrete wall behind him creates a “waterfall effect” and protects him.

Ryan Decker of Newport, R.I., got free tickets to sit in the far corner of Gillette.

“I ended up winning these tickets in a bar,’’ he says. “Every beer, you got a little ticket and then they have a drawing.”

He drank an awful lot of beer.

“It took me 11 straight games till I won,” he says.

His father-in-law, Tony Oliveira, learned something about himself at Gillette: He needs glasses.

“I can’t even read the players numbers from here,” he says.

Ryan Parish, a supervisor for a Rhode Island security firm, bought tickets online at $157 apiece for the last row of Section 324 in the southwest corner. He’s not jealous of these sitting down below.

“They may have more money, but we’re bigger fans,” he says. “We have more fun.”

His date, Nicole Frisk of Middleton, R.I., holds on to Parish as tightly as Stevan Ridley should hold on to the football.

“I’m a little bit afraid of heights,” she says.

Across the aisle, Stephane Parisien, the chief municipal officer of Hawkesberry, Ontario, is a man on a mission.

“This is a bucket-list thing,” says Parisien, who paid $200 for tickets and drove eight hours.

“We don’t mind,” he says. “The tailgating was amazing and the walk-up actually warms you up. It’s great.”

The Canadian did have one complaint, though not with the seats.

“The [American] beer,” he says. “You can’t get [drunk] on it.’’

High above courtside

Over at TD Garden, Doc Rivers and the Clippers are making a house call. So are two fans from South Korea.

Jung Heon Kin, on a sightseeing trip from Seoul, purchased seats in Section 325, Row 15, for $26 each on Ticketmaster.

“These seats can make us feel the whole mood of the fans and players,” he says. “We can see everything at one time.”

He also notes the numbers of the “special players” hanging in the rafters.

He is sitting with Min Ko, who is doing an internship at the Smithsonian Institution.

They have many questions. Thankfully, none are about Dennis Rodman. The first is about the leprechaun at center court.

“I saw that character many times on the Internet,” says Kin. “But I don’t know what it means.”

Told that the leprechaun creates crazy bounces for the other team, the men nodded.

“Ahhhh,” they said.

Nearby, Amy Starr sits with 320 students from Lowell High School Career Academy who got free tickets from the Celtics thanks to the heroic actions of a classmate. Keysha Nunez, 15, was on her way to school when she saw a house on fire. She hopped a fence and helped save four families from a burning building. She received a “Heroes Among Us” award, and her classmates had a bird’s-eye view when she received a standing ovation.

Starr says the seats are just fine.

“I’m just happy to be here no matter where the seats are,” she says.

Joe Heneghan, 34, of Holyoke may have the best bargain in the house. His last-row seat has the aisle directly in front of him, complete with a banister to rest his size 13 Nikes on.

Heneghan, a loss-prevention representative from Springfield, had attended games in the past, and his wife got a phone call from the Celtics offering a discount on season tickets.

“We jumped on it,” he says.

The former Agawam High School player, who stands 6 feet 5 inches, says this sure beats TV.

“When something big happens, you have 17,000 people cheering with you, as opposed to one or two in your living room,’’ he says.

His wife, Amy, agrees.

“We sat once before in the center court suites and we didn’t like it,” she says. “No one was paying attention to the game. Everyone was sipping on their expensive wine, wearing their heels. We were the only ones wearing Celtics jerseys in our entire section.

“This is where the real fans are,” she says, gazing out at championship banners that almost seem within reach. “There’s almost an aura about this place.”

Stan Grossfeld can be reached at grossfeld@globe.com.

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