For the better part of an hour after Jerod Mayo and his wife Chantel stepped down the stairs of a white coach bus, pockets of Patriots teammates – both past and present – followed their hosts down the red carpet and into Kings at Legacy Place in Dedham.
Some marked their entrance by flexing a biceps and flashing a goofy smile (Rob Gronkowski), while others carried their own bowling ball and looked accordingly ready for business (Stephen Gostkowski). Some were dressed for work, in khakis and a polo (Nate Solder), while others wore shorts and a T-shirt (Logan Mankins). Some were recently retired (Matt Light and Troy Brown), while others were recently released (Gerard Warren and Alex Silvestro). Some brought dates, while others went stag.
And when one arrived with the date of all dates – yes, Tom Brady brought his wife, Gisele – they ushered them in the backdoor.
They came in various forms, fashions, shapes and sizes, but the point is that they came. They came to the third annual Mayo Bowl to support the stated causes of Pitching in for Kids and the Boston Medical Center, both of which admirably endeavor to improve the lives of children in New England.
Though as they made their way into the event, several players made clear they came almost as much to support Mayo himself, not only for the purpose of backing his charitable mission, but simply as teammates and friends – and in this still-building stage of the football season there was a sense that in terms of chemistry and cohesion the players believed the night could ultimately benefit the benefactors almost as much as the beneficiaries.
“It’s a great thing for teammates to have stuff like this to support one another," said defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. "This organization has done a great job over the years. Any time someone has something, the support system is always there -- all you’ve got to do is put the word out and everybody comes flocking here. Just get away from our element a little bit and let the community know we care.”
A turnout like Monday’s suggests they care not only about the community, they also care about each other. And while a night of bowling isn’t exactly an arduous commitment, it was the day after their season opener, a precious off-night as the season begins to pick up its pace. It’s one thing to sign a pair of cleats and donate them to a silent auction, and it's another thing altogether to actually be there sharing a lane with people who paid big money for the chance to bowl with a Patriot.
And that more than half of New England’s roster deemed it important enough to pick the latter says a lot about the value of nights like these on a variety of levels.
“Giving back to the community, raising money for a great cause, giving back to everyone that’s supporting us. It’s also giving back to Mayo,” said Gronkowski, the tight end who tweeted afterward that he’d bowled a 169. “Coming to support him, coming to support a charity event, and also at the same time we’re having a great time bowling, having a good team get-together.”
“Any time you get to hang out with your teammates for a great cause, and be a part of something we all feel like is bigger than football,” said cornerback Devin McCourty, “it’s a good thing to do.”
Punter Zoltan Mesko joked that he had a different motivation, given his slender frame in relation to his sure-tackling host -- “He’ll stuff me in my locker and shut it for the night, so I might as well be out here instead of in my locker” – though the two Ron Burton Community Service Award winners have each supported the other’s charity in the past, so there was really no question whether he’d come. Or whether he’ll come in the future.
“Jerod’s one of the leaders of the team, not only on the field but in the community," the punter said, "and whenever we have an opportunity to help a teammate out we’re all for it."
Of course, rallying around a teammate's charity event doesn't guarantee success. The Red Sox showed up in droves for Josh Beckett's own bowling tournament last month, but the pitcher was traded five days later and the team (with karma working against it after most of the same players skipped Johnny Pesky's funeral earlier in the day) has since lost 15 of 19. And in the case of the Patriots, if Mayo didn't bring them together Monday night they'd likely still be one of the best teams in the AFC based on their collective talent -- and particularly the all-time talent of the guy in Lane 5 who showed up without a bandage on his nose, but with a supermodel on his arm.
But the fact that so many of them walked that red carpet and wore those gray bowling shirts on Monday night meant something. To the kids. To their captain. And, perhaps, to the club.
“We’re a family," Mayo said. "I’m truly grateful for them coming out and supporting this event, supporting a cause that we believe in.”
UPDATE: Between the bowling, the tickets, and the auction items, Mayo Bowl raised $140,000 for the two charities. (Last year's reported total was around $100,000.) As for the competition, Brandon Lloyd's team proved victorious.
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