As the Boston Globe described it, "Cowboy Up" means "to suck it up in times of adversity. No boo-hooing. No namby-pamby fatalism." The phrase quickly made its way to t-shirts and other signage during the team's playoff run.
Clever Patriots fans came up with their own twist on that rallying cry to survive this past weekend's freezing temperatures in a call to "Eskimo Up." Roughly adapted to the Patriots and their game this past weekend, it means no wimping out in the face of sub-zero cold.
Picture the scene in "The Dirty Dozen" when scruffy soldier Franko prepares to demonstrate field shaving with a knife, cold water and no shaving cream on a frosty morning. Now that's a Cowboy/Eskimo Up moment.
But the fans didn't just survive: they thrived. It was amazing to see hardly a single empty seat in an open air stadium despite 4-degree air temperatures and a wind chill of minus-10 at kickoff. That was at about 8:15 p.m.; by the end of the game, the wind chill fell into the minus-twenties. It was the coldest game in franchise history.
Yet the fans remained. The parking lots began filling five hours before game time with the kind of folks who put the "fan" in "fanatic." Sporting goods stores had their shelves emptied in order that these diehards might have layer upon layer of protection from the cold. It took effort to move in these cocoons and conditions but the fans were all smiles.
Tailgating wasn't easy. The grills had trouble starting and the beer didn't go down easy because the liquids froze. With ice forming in cans and bottles, fans practically had to eat their drinks.
The capacity crowd streamed into the stadium, where swirling winds and the higher altitudes of many of the seating sections made it even colder. But more than 68,000 stayed strong, and even the club seats, often a source of frustration because fans in those seats can escape to warm interiors and cause a diminution in the noise level with which to intimidate the opposing team, were filled and stayed filled for most of the game. There was little to no drop-off after halftime, either.
The temperature inside the stadium had to have shot up a few ticks when the introductory festivities began. The band "Boston" made a surprise visit, playing the National Anthem with bare fingers on cold guitar strings to the wonder of those watching. Fireworks launched from the field lit the spirits as "Boston" rocked on.
The cheering briefly turned to frothy "boos" as the opposing team's players were announced.
Then the cheering turned back to frenzy as the Patriots took the field. The rock music faded and the massive strains of "Carmina Burana" blasted over the crowd, while a video montage on the giant screens showed clips from such movies as "Braveheart," "Gladiator," and "Predator" (with Arnold Schwarzenegger waving a flaming log and screaming in full-throated picture of fury). The noise level rose to a deafening roar when the Patriots came out onto the field, led by waving flags.
"Here are your . . . New England Patriots!"
You could feel a chill even through the layers of fleece and wool but it wasn't from the cold air. The atmosphere was electric.
The crowd and the video board operators fed off each other throughout the game with amusement a-plenty. At one point, the screen showed a scene from the movie "Dumb and Dumber" with Jim Carey on a moped on an icy street in Colorado struggling to remove goggles from his quivering face. The fans could appreciate that one.
It was followed by the song "Summer Wind." The irony was not lost on the crowd, which sang along and swayed in time to Sinatra's serenade.
At another point the giant video screen taunted us with a picture of a cozy fire place and a roaring fire.
The crowd was able to take some comfort in the shared experience of facing the cold together and enjoying the laughter induced by the stand-up comic running the big board.
And the fans' efforts were not lost on the Patriots players.
"I saw 60,000 people sitting up there and their benches weren't heated," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "That was enough motivation for me to play."
Safety Rodney Harrison also got a boost from the fans. Harrison told the Boston Globe that coming out of the tunnel of Gillette Stadium in the cold weather to start a game is absolutely great. "It gives you an awesome feeling because it's cold outside. These fans, they are sacrificing sitting out there in zero degree weather, throwing snow [as they did during a game against Miami played after several feet of snow fell in December] and just rooting for you and it really makes you want to play even harder."
Defensive tackle Richard Seymour showed the fans his appreciation in the fourth quarter. With the Titans backed up on their own 7 yard line in the closed end zone of the stadium, the fans were getting louder and louder. Seymour waved to them and clapped at them, his own standing ovation further encouraging their attempts at disrupting the Titans' huddle. The fans responded by raising the volume even more. On that drive, the Titans didn't make it past their own 17. The fans were "jumping out of their seats," Seymour later said, clearly enjoying himself.
The fans played a role in the game and had a hand in several of the Tennessee penalties. The Titans' first play from scrimmage was stopped by a false start by offensive lineman Brad Hopkins. In the second quarter, on the series after a Patriots touchdown, the fans were roaring and the Titans had two delay-of-game penalties in three plays. The Titans had a third delay penalty and two false starts in the third quarter.
The Patriots definitely enjoyed a home field advantage, particularly in a tight game that was tied until the final four minutes of play and won by three points. The home crowd was left with the glee of a win and the satisfaction of having successfully braved the conditions.
But it wasn't all fun for everyone. Boston Globe writer Dan Shaughnessy enjoyed the comfort of his press box for the game but got his share of Mother Nature afterwards. He had locked his keys in his car and had to linger in the parking lot until police could help him out. It is not known whether he had fun.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick in his day-after press conference singled out what he thought to be the critical moment and momentum-changer of the game. It may sound strange at first, but Coach Belichick said it was a Patriots fourth-quarter drive that resulted in a punt. Let's set the stage to see why it earned Belichick's notice:
The Titans dominated the third quarter, tying the game at 14 all and taking a seeming stranglehold on the momentum. Things looked even bleaker for the Patriots when Tennessee's Pro Bowl punter Craig Hentrich launched a 56 yard kick (with the wind) to pin the Patriots at their own 5 yard line.
But the Patriots managed to get out of that tough spot. On first down, running back Antowain Smith made an incredible dash for 17 yards, breaking tackles and carrying would-be tacklers with him to the 22 yard line. It gave the Patriots breathing room and factored into the vital field position battle that the Patriots were unknowingly about to win.
Even though New England's drive eventually stalled, it was on Tennessee's side of the field, and punter Ken Walter needed only a short punt (because the punter with the lowest net punt average remaining in the playoffs couldn't manage much more anyway, particularly kicking into the wind) and delivered, pinning the Titans at their own 7 yard line.
The Titans got one first down before they stalled at their own 17 (see the comments on Seymour, above). Their resulting punt gave the Patriots the ball back with a short field at the Tennessee 40 yard line.
The Patriots offense put it all on the line in that next drive, including the conversion of a 4th-and-3 with a gutsy pass from quarterback Tom Brady to receiver Troy Brown. ("With the game on the line," Brady said afterwards, "Troy Brown is my man.") That allowed the offense to get in range for what would be the margin-of-victory field goal, a 46-yarder from the steady Adam Vinatieri, who is no stranger to game-winning kicks.
"There were a lot of big plays in the game," Coach Belichick said. But Smith's run from the Patriots 5 and the short drive that followed, he said, "was one of the key stages of the game for our whole football team."
Weather Outlook Ahead
The New England region could be downright balmy next Sunday compared with this past weekend's deep freeze. Temperatures for the 3 p.m. game against Indianapolis are expected to be around 30 degrees with overcast skies and a chance for light snow.
Injuries a Concern for Next Game
Patriots Pro Bowl offensive lineman Damien Woody may be listed as questionable for the next game with a leg injury. He was hurt in the regular season finale against Buffalo and did not finish that game, but was able to start against Tennessee after enjoying the bye week and two weeks off. He has a much shorter window in which to get healthy this time, though, and the Patriots will need their top offensive lineman in the AFC Championship game. He was replaced in this game by guard Russ Hochstein, who "held up in there okay" according to the always-reticent Coach Belichick.
Running back Antowain Smith also suffered an ankle injury but returned to action. He first suffered the tweak at the end of his 17-yard run in the fourth quarter to get the Patriots out of the shadow of their own goal posts. He didn't take any more snaps on that series but came back for the next, finishing the game with 69 yards rushing and an impressive 4.3 yards-per-carry average against the league's top run defense.
Kicker Adam Vinatieri reportedly was experiencing a bad back following the game. His status and that of Woody and Smith will be revisited later in the week.
Anderson: One Career Ends and Another Begins
Titans kicker Gary Anderson came out of retirement this year to help Tennessee when their starting kicker went down with injury. Anderson, who is 44 years old, went back to retirement after the game, announcing that he was finally done with his NFL career. And it was a great career, one possibly worthy of the Hall of Fame: he is the league's scoring leader in both the regular and post-season. He had just two points in his last game, though, with his only field goal attempt blocked by Patriots defensive tackle Richard Seymour. Anderson runs a fly fishing business at home in Minnesota and we wish him well.