FOXBOROUGH — Here the fans came Sunday morning, spilling out of commuter rail train cars and SUVs, making the noble journey toward the iconic lighthouse of Gillette Stadium.
They arrived in hunting jackets and full-body snowsuits. They arrived wrapped in fleece blankets and fur-lined parkas. They arrived with hand-warmers packed into their shoes, gloves, and hats — “I’ve got eight on me,” said Rosemarie Patch of Walpole, N.H. — and with beer in their bloodstreams.
It was the third-coldest Patriots game since 1993. Thirteen degrees. Winds around 15 miles an hour. And a wind- chill of negative-2.
Yet the fans didn’t complain much, in true New England fashion. On Sunday morning, coach Bill Belichick was spotted making his traditional inspection of the field wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. He had bundled up by game time.
“Thursday morning, I was pouring concrete out on the Merrimack River,” said Patriots fan Bill Bamford, a carpenter from South Hampton, N.H. “No one wants to work in cold weather, but I can go to a football game, no problem.”
Still, Sunday’s weather was a different kind of beast, part of an East Coast cold front that had dumped snow on various major cities and left local officials lobbing warnings about extended exposure to such frigid temperatures. It was the kind of cold that left mugs of tailgate beer frozen over, that could make the typically wretched confines of a parking lot porta-potty seem like a wonderful, if temporary, reprieve.
So unforgiving was the pregame forecast that the Patriots announced last week that they’d be distributing 65,000 hand-warmers to fans as they entered Gillette Stadium. Attendance was listed at 65,878, though the stands began to empty out after halftime.
It was nothing, fan after fan insisted Sunday, that a little preparation couldn’t handle, and they were happy to describe their own personal approaches. The key, said some, was lots of thin layers. It’s all about the hand-warmers, insisted others.
To others still, it was a simple equation of mind over matter.
“You have to mentally prepare,” explained Shawn Morris, a season-ticket holder from Glastonbury, Conn., who held the frozen remains of a beer in a gloved paw in the stadium concourse. “You’re going to be cold the whole game, and if you get over it early in the game, you’ll be fine.”
Never mind that it was New Year’s Eve, or that this was a relatively meaningless regular-season game; with the team having already clinched the AFC East title and a first-round bye, all that hung in the balance was the AFC’s top seed. The Patriots wrapped it up, 26-6.
When Mike and Sherry DeJarnette nabbed tickets to Sunday’s regular-season finale earlier in the year, the Arkansas couple were not exactly expecting tropical game-day conditions.
But as game day approached, and it became increasingly clear the weather would be frigid even by New England’s brutal standards, they hastily made preparations, stuffing an entire large suitcase with boots, jackets, and anything else they thought might come in handy on game day. They seemed to be wearing much of it on their way to Sunday’s 1 p.m. game.
“Only thing I didn’t wear was my waders,” said Mike, an avid duck hunter whose outer layer consisted of a full-body camouflage suit.
In other NFL locales, maybe, fans could leave their cold-weather gear at home. In Los Angeles, where the NFL’s Rams would be hosting the 49ers, game-time temperatures were expected to reach the upper 60s. In Miami, forecasts were calling for an equally balmy 70-or-so degrees.
“No cold beer today,” said Brewster’s Dion Dugan, as he waited in a concession-stand line to buy hot chocolate for his wife.
What’s more, some not only tolerated the day’s weather but — for strategic purposes — welcomed it.
“I actually love the cold games,” Bamford said, “because the Patriots play better.”
Indeed, not all were thrilled with Sunday’s clime. Some conceded they had hesitated a bit as the forecast appeared increasingly bleak last week.
“I work in snow management, so I’m constantly following the weather,” admitted Dan Grealish of Dedham, as he played beer-pong before the game. “And every day it got closer, I was just like, ‘Oh, God.’ ”
Some ticket-holders did back out — though their loss was inevitably others’ gain.
When Dave Kouroyen’s wife called last week to tell him that a friend was skipping out due to the weather and had four tickets available, he immediately urged her to scoop them up.
“Then I called these guys,” he said, pointing to three friends who were in the process of helping each other squeeze into ever more layers in the parking lot before kickoff, “and they said, ‘Absolutely.’”
Standing out in the parking lot before Sunday’s game, one especially large group of tailgaters were all smiles, unaffected, it seemed, by the stabbing wind swirling around them.
“I’ve been [here] when it was 13 below,” said Billy Burrows of Billerica, who, perhaps not coincidentally, would be recognized before Sunday’s game as the New England Patriots 2017 Fan of the Year — an honor that comes with, among other things, box seats for every home game next season.
Asked, as he prepared to enter the stadium Sunday, whether he was thinking about the cold, he did not need much time to consider his response.
“I’m thinking,” he said, “about beating the Jets.”