sports > football > patriots

In the house, not at home

Patriots fever isn't just a man's affliction anymore

By Eric Wilbur / January 8, 2006
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Click the play button above to hear Caroline King (left) and Leslie McCallum describe their passion for football and the Patriots. They are pictured here in the parking lot of Gillette Stadium just before the Patriots beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 28-3. (Audio and photos by Scott LaPierre/

FOXBOROUGH – The football widow is a myth.

Sure, in some land of cliché and generalization, women moan over the five pigskin-filled months they lose their husbands or boyfriends to a sport known for its manly tenacity, grunting fanatics, and Coors Light bikini-clad pinups. Increasingly though, that is the exception, as the female football fan is emerging as a primary target for a game historically seen as a man’s passion.

“It’s the exact opposite in my house, actually,” said Audrey Sullivan, 38, of Ludlow on her way into last night’s 28-3 win by the Patriots in a playoff contest against the Jaguars at Gillette Stadium. While she’s glued in front of the TV on Sunday afternoons watching her Patriots, her husband, absent on this night, prefers to go snowmobiling, content to have her relay the results upon his return.

“I’m pretty rabid,” she said. “The only time I tend to have a little bit of a chip on my shoulder is if there’s a male fan who feels that I’m a fan only because I like the color of the uniforms or the way that the tight pants look on the players and don’t give me credit for actually knowing the game.”

So while a quartet of male Patriots fans gathered in the Gillette parking lot around the back of their vehicle, swilling beer and discussing the latest happenings of Marissa and Ryan on the OC, Heidi Collins, 32, of Boston and her mother, Linda Lutsch, hovered over a fire pit nearby breaking down gridiron chalk talk, in stark contrast to the antiquated theory that they “should be at home.”

“I think it’s a myth that most women don’t enjoy the game of football,” Lutsch said. I’m sure if you walked around the parking lot you would see quite a few ladies in the crowd.”

Audrey Sullivan said she "grew up with football."

Linda Lutsch and her daughter Heidi Collins have always shared an interest in the Patriots.

Among them was 21-year-old Jessica Teng of Boston, who admitted she’s still learning the ins and outs, picking up bits and pieces of knowledge by watching games with her friends at college on Sundays. “I’m actually very aware of the male dominance that comes with sports,” she said. “I wish that it maybe could be different. It’s an interesting phenomenon. But it’s really fun and my family is really into it.”

That includes the touch football game that has become a Thanksgiving tradition with her family, including cousins Stephanie Teng and Jennifer Yang, all tailgating last night, donning the No. 37 of injured safety Rodney Harrison, picked up on sale in the outlets of Kittery, Maine.

“He’s also a great safety,” Stephanie interjected, pointing out that his was the Patriots’ biggest loss they’ll need to overcome in the postseason, and at the same time, making the point known that his jersey was a sign of respect and admiration from the group of females, not a matter of a finding a good sale during a shopping spree.

Most women admit to have been acclimated to the game through their father or a brother who either followed or played the game himself. But that even is becoming nothing more than a general assumption, mothers now passing the game’s enjoyment onto their sons and daughters as their fathers once did them.

That’s precisely what Carol Gaynam of Manchester, NH, boasts doing. The 57-year-old mother of four daughters, all once varsity athletes at Boston College, Dartmouth, and Middlebury, proudly touts her affection for the game, and looks forward to discussing the outcomes with her children afterward, now strewn across the country, from California to Florida.

“Any women that don’t join in are missing out,” she said, standing among the jacked throng in the nighttime shadow of the Gillette lighthouse. Those missing out include some of her closest friends. With four tickets to last night’s game, Gaynam and her husband could not find another couple to join them, even for wild-card playoff tickets that countless scoured the parking lot for prior to kickoff. In the end, they gave them to a gate attendant, who assured them he would find two worthy souls to enjoy the seats.

“I like to watch the strategy, I feel like I’m learning more and more about it all the time. I feel like I get the game,” Gaynam said, adding that getting the running game going early was essential for the Patriots, “so they don’t have to rely on Tom Brady to carry the whole offense.”

Stephanie Teng, Jessica Teng, Jennifer Yang, and Jessica Dong said that football brings the whole family together.

Carol Gaynam said that women who don't enjoy watching football "are missing out."

Without a doubt, and with good reason, the Patriots quarterback was the No. 1 most important player mentioned by females, the one they thought most needed to produce if this edition of Bill Belichick’s New England darlings is to raise its fourth Lombardi trophy next month in Detroit. With three touchdown passes against the Jaguars, not a bad start indeed. And yes, the man might have boyish cute looks and can grace a cover of GQ with the best of them. But ask a guy the same question, and well, the answer won’t be surprising.

“It’s not just because of the guys on the field,” said 27-year-old Leslie McCallum of Portland, Maine.

OK, so she and her friend Caroline King, 25, of Bedford, kicked back beneath a blanket in the back of an SUV, admitted to sipping on some Yellow Tail chardonnay and Malibu Rum before switching to the hops and barley their male companions were drinking. That’s perhaps the only difference they could muster that separated female fans from male fans.

“I would say it is so old fashioned to think that the men are running off to football games without their girlfriends or wives anymore. Because we’re the ones going, we’re the ones watching,” King said. “And we love it.”

Both were “100 percent sure,” McCallum said, that the Patriots would be champions once again come February.

“Well, we’ll say 98 (percent),” she said, after a moment of reflection.

So far, so good, thanks to New England’s win over Beverly Pierce’s Jaguars, which advances the Pats to the divisional round next weekend vs. either Denver or Indianapolis, pending today’s showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals. The 53-year-old Pierce, who made the journey north from Jacksonville with her husband, wasn’t pleased with Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio’s decision to go with Byron Leftwich over David Garrad, the quarterback who had led Jacksonville to a 4-1 record down the stretch after the team lost the incumbent Leftwich to injury in November.

“We’ll win by three if Garrad plays,” said Pierce, whose brother played football with former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz at East Liverpool High in Ohio. “Otherwise, Patriots win by two touchdowns.”

That proved prophetic, as Leftwich could never get it going, completing 18 of 31 passes and throwing a costly interception in the fourth quarter that Asante Samuel took into the end zone, essentially clinching a New England laugher. The end result was a handful of disappointed Jaguars fans leaving the stadium, sprinkled about the thousands of all too familiar jubilant Patriots fans.

More than ever, many of them were women.

Minutes before fireworks exploded over a frigid Gillette Stadium, one male Jaguars fan, bundled in the puffy warmth of his Floridian teal team jacket, complaining to a Patriots fan about the cold of a New England January. Nevertheless, he was there, thanks to his team. Thanks more to his wife.

“She wanted to go to a road game,” he said. “We could have done Baltimore or Carolina in September…” he trailed off, throwing his hands up, the steam of winter escaping from his mouth.

The woman knows football. No myth.