SAN DIEGO — It wasn’t a home game for the Patriots but it sure felt that way.
The tailgating area around Qualcomm Stadium felt like Foxborough west in the hours leading up to kickoff, and when Tom Brady and backup Jimmy Garoppolo took the field for warmups, they were greeted by a loud ovation from thousands of early arriving fans dressed in Patriots gear.
“Having all these Pats fans here is awesome,” said Shane Long, who made the drive from Las Vegas to attend the game with his buddy Noel Lucio of San Diego. “We’re going to take over the place. “
Long wasn’t far off on his prediction.
In the days leading up the game, Patriots fans took over several popular establishments, including the Tipsy Crow in the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego and several hot spots in the Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach party areas.
Trolleys to the stadium were packed with a diverse mix of folks of various ages wearing Brady and Rob Gronkowski jerseys.
When a couple sporting Chargers colors attempted to squeeze into one car, they were greeted by a “Let’s Go Pats” chant and with playful ribbing.
The atmosphere during the game was like a game played at a neutral site rather than a road game because of a number of factors, including the laidback nature of Southern California sports fan, the Patriots’ recent success, and because many New England natives now call the San Diego area home.
Ali Muhammad attended the game with daughers Sumaiya and Kahleena and son Ali Jr. Muhammad grew up in Cambridge and has maintained his devotion to the Patriots despite living in the San Diego area for nearly 20 years.
When the Patriots last visited San Diego, for a 2006 divisional-round playoff game, the Muhammad family had tickets.
They missed the game because Ali Jr. banged his eye on a doorknob at home and had to go to the hospital.
“He was broken-hearted over it, so this is kind of a makeup gift, “ Ali Sr. said. “They have free will, so they can cheer for whoever they want, but I’m happy to see them as Pats fans.
“I’ve been one since I was in the stroller as a little kid myself. It’s in my blood.”
Sumaiya, who wore a Brady jersey to the game, summarized the life of a Patriots fan on the West Coast: “Chargers fans are the biggest haters. They call us cheaters, they say you’re a bandwagon fan . . . all that stuff.
“Whatever. They’re just jealous because we win.”
Long, who grew up in Las Vegas and has yet to attend a game in Foxborough, was in attendance for the Patriots’ memorable playoff win over the Chargers in the 2006 season.
“It’s been so long since they’ve been out here, I think that’s why you see so much excitement over this,” said Long, who named his son Brady Thomas.
“There’s really a feeling that this is a special season brewing and it’s great to be a part of it.
“I just wish they came out here more often.”