Thursday, October 17, 2013

The View from My Wheelchair: Gillette Stadium (part 2 of 3)

This is part two of my three part series about our trip to Gillette Stadium. Click here for part one.

We decided to compress our planned tailgating activities from four hours to two hours, so that we could spend some of the pregame in the luxury box. We ate our food until it hurt, and then we ate a little more. At around 2:30 we packed our tailgating paraphernalia into the van and began walking toward the stadium. We flashed our special passes to the stadium employees, and they funneled us toward the VIP intake system. The closer we came to the luxury box the more affluent and well-heeled I began to feel. We were leaving the riffraff behind and becoming part of the football watching elite, or something like that. I swear, when we opened the door to the suite a soft, white light emanated from within, and I think I heard harp music. This was going to be good.

Once inside, we thanked our kind hosts and ordered some complementary drinks from the waiter (I had already moved on to Diet Coke by this point). Our priority when we enter an unfamiliar space like this is to evaluate its wheelchair accessibility. The bathroom was perfect. It was roomy and accessible and private so that Kim could come in and assist me. The suite itself was spacious, but there was no place where I could have a clear view of the field without interference from people in front of me, even though the iBot can stand tall.

Eventually we identified the best possible viewing spot. I could see most of the field most the time, and there was a television right in front of me that showed live-action. I could use that as a backup.

More and more people poured into the luxury box. The guests came in all shapes and sizes, so to speak. The all-star lineup included a private college CEO (or whatever they are called), several business owners and executives, a well-known Maine sportscaster, and a handsome dude in an iBot wheelchair. These people were no more or less friendly and interesting than the people in the parking lot. But they were either more fortunate or more hard-working, depending on your philosophy on such matters.

Many of the guests approached me to talk about the iBot. As I’ve indicated before, explaining the iBot and demonstrating its features are two of my favorite activities. It makes for great conversation. Plus, it elevates me, at least to some extent, from the realm of the pitiable to the realm of the enviable.

Did I mention there was complementary food, beer, and wine in the luxury suite? We also enjoyed shrimp, scallops, beef wrapped in bacon, noodles, cookies, chocolates, and ice cream. Although our bellies were already full, it would have been rude not to partake of this complementary feast, and we’re not rude people. We feasted again until it hurt, and then we feasted a little more.

Eventually I asked Kim to assist me in the bathroom. Even with her help, I take considerably more time than the average guy to get into the bathroom, empty my bladder, and get out. As often occurs in these situations, people waiting to use the bathroom after me became impatient. They hadn’t seen me go in, and wondered what was taking so long. They rattled the locked door more than once, and although they never shouted, “What’s taking so long?” I was able to overhear them wonder as much amongst themselves.

When we were done and I wheeled out of the bathroom, I could see the expressions on the faces of those people who were waiting so impatiently. They always look humbled, and this time was no different. It’s all good, though. When you’re a disabled person in an able-bodied world, you grow a thick skin.

The first half of the game went well. At intermission the Patriots were ahead of the undefeated Saints 17 - 7. Things didn’t go so well in the second half. The Patriots kept making mistakes and the Saints didn’t. With New Orleans leading by a score of 27 - 23, and only two minutes and 24 seconds left on the clock, the Patriots took possession of the ball for what would certainly be the last time. A field-goal would be of no use to the Patriots. They would need to score a touchdown. Tom Brady, our future Hall of Fame quarterback, had accomplished comebacks like this many times before. We weren’t confident, but we were hopeful.

On the very next play, Brady threw a deep pass that was intercepted by the Saints at the New England 20 yard line. Game over.

I moved away from the luxury box window and mingled at the back of the suite. At least half of the suite guests were leaving. Many of the 70,000+ patrons in the stadium were filing out too. I thanked our hosts for their hospitality. They graciously apologized that the team didn’t win today, and I graciously pointed out that it wasn’t their fault. I’ve joked a bit here about the extravagance of the situation, but these business owners were down to earth and kind folks, and I very much appreciated their generosity. Watching a Patriots game from a luxury box was an incredible experience. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go back out in the cold next year!

I texted a friend, Susan, who was stuck at an airport and unable to watch the game. I let her know that the Patriots had lost by four points. Andy, Karen, and Kim remained at the front of the luxury box to bear witness to the Patriots death throes, although I couldn’t understand why they were putting themselves through that pain.

After a few minutes, however, Kim called to me, “Mitch, it’s third down for the Saints. You may want to come watch this.”

I had assumed that there simply wasn’t enough time left in the game for the Patriots to get their hands on the ball again. I’m usually pretty good about these things, but in this instance I had been wrong. New Orleans failed to get a first down and had to punt to the Patriots. Tom Brady and his offense would get one more chance.

The Patriots moved the ball well, and with 10 seconds left in the game they were on the New Orleans 17 yard line. On the next play, Brady dropped back and let the ball fly to the back left-hand corner of the end zone. Kenbrell Thompkins, an undrafted rookie, leapt up and caught the ball. Both of his feet landed inbounds – touchdown.

Unfortunately for me, but understandable in the context of such an exciting finish, everyone had stood up in front of me as soon as the ball left Brady’s hand, and I didn’t see the catch. I was aware of the completion because of the reaction of the rest of the fans. I shifted my gaze from the field to the television just in time to see Thompkins celebrating in the end zone.

In this instance, the view from my wheelchair sucked.

On a scale of 1 to 10, if I had watched that play from my couch, or if I had been afforded a clear view of the field, I would have felt like a 10. But, given that I had actually missed the climactic event of the day, I was probably a solid 8 instead. I wish I wasn’t that way. I shouldn’t have let it affect me, but these are just the facts. Still, I was very happy about the outcome of the game.

Sheepishly, I admitted to my group, who were all solid 10’s as they should have been, that I had sent a faulty text to our friend Susan. We laughed about it, and I quickly sent her a correction!

Although my end-of-the-game was slightly subdued from what it otherwise could have been, I can’t imagine the regret and disappointment of the significant number of fans who, after having spent hundreds of dollars and many hours at the stadium, left early and completely missed this dramatic comeback victory. And how do you suppose most of those fans learned of their premature evacuation? As they were walking towards their vehicles or as they were cracking open one last beer for the post game tailgating, they heard such a roar emanating from the stadium that it could only have meant one thing. Ouch.

Part three (conclusion) tomorrow...


  1. We turned the game off to eat dinner. Turned on SNF and found out the Pats had won. I wasn't excited about it, but I was surprised! Jen

  2. Michelle (bestadmom0October 17, 2013 at 7:17 PM

    Pemature evacuation. LOVE it! And love Part 1 & 2. Can't wait 'til 3.

  3. Jen, there's still room for you on the patriots bandwagon! It must be so frustrating to root for the Cowboys. I was rooting for them against Denver, and, well, you know how that worked out…

    Michelle, I'm thinking of trademarking that phrase. You know any good trademark lawyers?