Patriot Place the golden kicker on a team's ascendancy
Inside The Hall at Patriot Place, fans can relive the 2002 Oakland Raiders game that launched New England toward its first Super Bowl win. (Christopher Klein for The Boston Globe)
As the snow swirls in the cold winter air, the kicker lines up a 45-yard field goal attempt to keep the New England Patriots' season alive in their playoff game against the Oakland Raiders. As the seconds tick away, the kicker plants his foot firmly on the crunchy, white turf and boots the football with all his might. The game-tying kick is up, and it's . . . no good.
No good? Well, the Patriots were fortunate they had Adam Vinatieri and not me kicking for them in that famous January 2002 game in their first championship season. While Vinatieri came through to tie and later win the game, I was less successful in replicating the kicks against a video screen at The Hall at Patriot Place, the newly opened museum here filled with fantastic interactive exhibits and Patriots memorabilia.
The Hall is the crown jewel of Patriot Place, the massive retail and entertainment development that has sprung up in the shadows of Gillette Stadium. Patriot Place is a work in progress with new storefronts and eateries seemingly opening every week, but it's already home to casual and upscale restaurants, shops, and theaters. By the time it's completed next spring, Patriot Place will include a 150-room hotel, a medical center, and 70 shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
The vision to make Foxborough a year-round destination would have been considered absurd as recently as last decade. The team was lousy and it had a stadium to match. Sellouts were rare, and the team's owner, James Orthwein, was close to moving the Pats to his hometown of St. Louis, which was without a National Football League team at the time. The Patriots offered little incentive to head to Foxborough on game day, and with only a run-down harness-racing track nearby, there was even less reason to go the rest of the year.
How quickly things have changed. Under the ownership of Robert Kraft, the team has won three Super Bowls, built a gleaming stadium, and transformed barren parking lots into a vast entertainment complex. Ronald Beech, a Pats fan from Bermuda who was visiting The Hall with his wife, Charlotte, was astonished at the changes since his last visit to old Foxboro Stadium.
Patriots fans can easily spend hours immersed in The Hall, reliving the franchise's recent glory and getting goose bumps all over again. All of the team's championship hardware - including its six AFC Championship trophies and three Vince Lombardi trophies - is on display. There's a seemingly endless line of game balls from the Patriots' NFL-record 21-game winning streak in 2003 and 2004 (including playoffs), and an entire wall is devoted to the bounty of league records set by the team.
Items on display in The Hall include coach Bill Belichick's signature gray hooded sweatshirt, an autographed "Saturday Night Live" script from quarterback Tom Brady's 2005 appearance, an old "Berry the Bears" T-shirt from Super Bowl XX (referring to then-coach Raymond Berry), and a metal bleacher from defunct Foxboro Stadium that looks as uncomfortable as ever. The quirkiest artifact hangs from the rafters, like a retired number. It's the infamous John Deere tractor used to clear the path for a Patriots game-winning field goal against the Miami Dolphins in a snowy 1982 contest that became known as the Snowplow Game.
Like gazing at awkward childhood photos in a scrapbook, Pats fans viewing exhibits on the team's early years can now look back with some fondness and chuckle at the team's humble origins in 1959 in the fledgling American Football League. To its credit, the museum pulls no punches in recalling what seemed a never-ending episode of football follies: the nomadic team's quest to find a permanent home in Boston, the 1969 electrical shock of coach Clive Rush at a news conference, a 1970 fire in Boston College's wooden bleachers during a preseason loss, and the brief, ill-fated name change to the Bay State ("B.S.") Patriots.
The museum also dedicates a wing to New England's rich and often overlooked football heritage. The jerseys of reigning New England high school champions are on display along with artifacts such as a football from the 1876 Harvard-Yale game and a pennant from the NFL's Boston Yanks, who played in Fenway Park in the 1940s. (Can you imagine a team named the Yanks calling Fenway home today?)
The Hall is a highly interactive experience right from the moment visitors, like players taking the field, cross the threshold to the roar of the crowd and the distinctive chords of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train." You can climb aboard the back of a Duck Boat and envision yourself in a victory parade, try on Richard Seymour's helmet and Super Bowl ring, and go under the hood of an instant replay booth to test your skills as a referee.
Visitors can even get in the middle of a huddle with life-size mannequins adorned in Patriots jerseys and hear Brady bark out plays from his wristband. "I loved the huddle," said Jeanne Harnois, a Patriots fan from Blackstone. "When I got in there, the statues started to speak. It was a little eerie at first, and then I realized the size of these men. It's totally amazing."
Touchscreens throughout the museum allow visitors to scan a timeline of the team's history, watch game highlights, and learn more about the 13 members of the Patriots Hall of Fame. There is also a 15-minute panoramic movie about the franchise that feels like a sweeping epic with its booming narration and pulse-pounding orchestral score.
After reliving the Patriots' glory years, you can take another walk down memory lane at the adjacent CBS Scene restaurant. Each booth is equipped with 19-inch televisions that play classic episodes of Tiffany Network shows such as "I Love Lucy," news programs such as "60 Minutes," and Patriots highlights. If you'd rather not watch any of the 130 televisions or eat under the gaze of Gilligan and Archie Bunker, the restaurant's two outdoor terraces overlook Gillette Stadium's north end zone. (The night after attending the opening of the CBS Scene, Brady was lost for the season with a knee injury. Let's hope it's not the Curse of Ricky Ricardo.)
Patriot Place also offers casual eateries such as Red Robin and upscale restaurants such as Davio's. After dinner, you can catch a movie at the 14-screen Showcase Cinema de Lux, which features premium leather loveseats, in-theater dining, and a lounge with a full bar. Or you can catch a live music or comedy performance at the 500-seat Showcase Live, which has already hosted acts ranging from Chaka Khan to Aimee Mann.
There's also a mix of big-box retailers and boutique shops at Patriot Place. While it's improbable that any Patriots will be shopping for duvet covers at Bed Bath & Beyond, Bass Pro Shops might draw them in. The massive outdoor recreation goods store - a mix of L.L. Bean and Disney World - has an aquarium stocked with more than 400 native Massachusetts fish, a three-story waterfall, and a 3,000-pound humpback whale suspended from the ceiling.
The mere existence of Patriot Place is remarkable when you consider how close the Pats came to leaving town. And if you need a reminder, take a look in the corner of one of The Hall's display cases at the name emblazoned on the baseball cap created for Orthwein to market the team:
St. Louis Stallions.
Christopher Klein, author of the forthcoming book "The Die-Hard Sports Fan's Guide to Boston" (Union Park, spring 2009), can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.