What You’ll Find at Patriots Training Camp

A day of sunburn, obstructed views and incomplete Tim Tebow passes. And it’s completely free.

WelcometoTrainingCamp

Photo by Damon Hatheway

More than 20,000 people descended upon Patriots training camp in Foxboro over the weekend to take in everything from Tom Brady—can you believe he’s entering his 14th NFL season?—to the host of rookies on the receiving end of his passes.

By 9:15 a.m. Saturday, the bleachers had long been filled and the hill overseeing the practice was packed with people, some of whom could see the action, many of whom could not. The practice began with position-specific drills, which included Brady, Ryan Mallett, and Tebow making sideline throws to a stationary receiver that got progressively longer as they got in rhythm. Tebow, who actually throws a decent deep ball, grounded a number of the shorter throws, eliciting delight from some and exasperated groans from others.

Almost everyone had an opinion on Tebow and they were happy to share it—often unprompted—with anyone near them. At the end of practice rivalrous groups alternated chanting his name and booing as he practiced running the read option with the running backs corps.

Sitting behind that group for much of the practice was a college-aged kid sporting a Florida Tebow jersey.

“Oh absolutely I think he’s going to stick with the Patriots,” says Chris Champagne, a longtime Patriots and Tebow fan whose aunt lives in Gainesville, Florida. “Even if it’s a third-string situation they’ll utilize him as a half back, wide receiver, tight end—they’ll throw him into special packages.”

(ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss seems to be thinking along similar lines in a series of tweets analyzing a comment Bill Belichick made about his quarterbacks on the NFL Network’s Sirius radio station.)

Others, like Doug from Enfield, Connecticut, who has been attending training camp since the team played in Foxboro Stadium—and came wearing a throwback Benjamin Coates jersey to prove it — were less convinced of Tebow’s role with the team. Doug made the hour-plus trip with his family not to ogle at Tebow or any other individual on the field, but because training camp is his only opportunity to see the team in person.

trainingcamp

Photos by Damon Hatheway

“The best part of training camp is that I get to see the team without paying an arm and a leg,” he says. “They’ve just outpriced me so this is my only opportunity to come out and see the players live.”

For fans like Doug, who used to make the occasional trip to Foxboro Stadium, the team’s move to Gillette Stadium coupled with its meteoric success has made tickets virtually unattainable. According to Forbes, the 2012 Patriots accumulated more money in gate receipts than any other team in the NFL. While the league averaged $56 million in gate receipts, the Patriots pulled in just shy of $100 million and trailed only the Jets in average ticket price at $120 per seat, with the league averaging $77. While pricing out longtime fans is an unfortunate occurrence, it’s also hard to paint the Patriots in too harsh a light. The team has sold out every game since Gillette stadium opened and ticket prices have been hiked just three times during that period. Furthermore, the team retains 99 percent of its season ticket holders from year to year and has a waiting list of 60,000; ticket prices are high, but the Patriots could likely bump the costs of tickets every year and still sell out their eight-game home schedule.

For many fans training camp provides an opportunity to see the team in person without taking a Jerod Mayo-sized hole to the wallet.

“It’s more personal this way: I like coming out here and watching the players,” Champagne says. “It’s the overall vibe … everyone is really excited to be here. After every catch the crowd goes wild. And it doesn’t cost anything either — you don’t have to pay anything to come here.”

While Champagne and many other fans are constantly looking down at their 90-man training camp rosters—and this year you need them more than ever—Doug keeps an eye out for Bill Belichick, whose soft spoken coaching style he admires.

Today, he and the thousands of fans in attendance are in luck. Ten minutes after the practice session ends, Belichick walks deliberately across the field toward the mass of fans pushing against the cordon where a couple of Patriots defensive backs are already signing autographs. Belichick makes his way from one end of the line to the other and then heads into the team’s facility.

For some this may be the only chance to see the Patriots in person—standing under the sun for a couple of hours, craning their necks for a better view—but with a Belichick interaction or the sight of Brady completing a pass behind the secondary to Danny Amendola, it’s enough to bring them back year after year.

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