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Patriots fans have zeal to keep selves warm

In preparation for tailgating at tomorrow's Patriots playoff game, Craig Repetto went to a Lowe's Home Improvement store earlier this week and spent $107 on a Coleman Round Firepit/Grill with Fire-Starter (propane cylinder not included).

Lowe's markets the grill for backyards and patios, not for warming football stadium parking lots, but when forecasters were calling for temperatures in single digits, wind speeds in double digits, and a windchill index as low as 20 below zero, Repetto adapted quickly. He calls his purchase an outdoor fireplace.

Patriots fans have been prepping all week -- buying tents, tarps, propane heaters, auxiliary long underwear, gadgets that heat up shoes, and booze -- for the Tennessee Titans tilt in Foxborough on a night that will be so frigid that the Red Cross has issued tips on how to avoid freezing. Fans found one tip questionable: Avoid alcohol. Another Red Cross reminder: Mittens are better than gloves.

But fans don't seem worried about the forecast. These are the same fans, of course, who piled into a stadium blanketed with more than 2 feet of snow last month and got so excited after a big play that they collectively launched handfuls of snow into the air and, as gravity goes, back into their faces.

"I'm mad it's not gonna snow," said Jerry Roche of Holliston. "The players deal with it. We deal with it. I'll tell you something: It's not going to take away from the cheering or the eating or the drinking. I'd rather have it cold and ugly than 75 degrees. This is New England. This is New England football."

Rabid though he is, Roche, 30, is not one of those guys who will attend without a shirt. He actually has a carefully formulated plan to stay warm. He and the 16 people in his tailgating party will erect two tents in the parking lot, heat them with four propane heaters, and hang tarps to keep the warmth in.

Repetto, who is 24 and lives in Brighton, will use a similar tent and propane heaters, plus his outdoor fireplace and another bought by a friend. Besides propane heaters, Tim Honohan, 32, of Methuen will employ two cast-iron cooking surfaces, one to cook chowder over, the other to toast hands over.

Patriots spokesman Stacey James said yesterday that the team has always allowed these makeshift camps in the parking lot and will do so again tomorrow night.

But, as Roche put it, "The tailgate is the easy part." It gets trickier inside Gillette Stadium, where swirling winds are predicted to approach 25 miles per hour, particularly for fans in less desirable seats in the upper deck.

So here's a tip from the Red Cross: "Dress in layers so that you can adjust to changing conditions. Each layer should serve a specific function. The inner layer manages moisture; the middle layer provides insulation from the cold; and the outer layer protects you from the wind and precipitation."

Repetto will do the Red Cross proud. He plans to wear two turtleneck sweaters, two sweat shirts, two pairs of gloves, and several pairs of sweat pants. Honohan is planning eight layers consisting of a couple of T-shirts, a light sweat shirt, then a fleece, then a heavy jacket and ski pants. Hats and gloves, too. Long underwear.

"If you look at me, you'll pretty much only be able to see my eyes," Honohan said. But while warm, the layers are also a hassle. Repetto said. "The worst thing is when you have to use the restroom. It takes about 20 minutes to relieve yourself."

Patriots officials said there would be extra medical personnel at the game because of the expected frigid conditions.

The Red Cross has other tips:

* Don't wear baseball caps. "Most of your heat is lost through your head. It is important to cover your head and ears in such cold weather."

* "Keep your mouth covered with a jacket or scarf to protect your lungs from extreme cold."

* "Avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol. Caffeine is a stimulant and can make the heart beat faster, hastening the effects of the cold on the body. Alcohol is a depressant and can slow the heart, also hastening the ill effects of cold body temperatures."

* And this one, given the Patriots' prowess at home, will be easy: "Keep moving. From time to time, vigorously move your arms and legs, fingers and toes, to keep blood circulating."

As for the Patriots, the team has devised a number of ways to keep players toasty. Each player will have a specially made undergarment to retain warmth. Many players will be wearing gloves, and some will have hand warmers in mufflers tied to their waist.

On the sideline, the benches will be heated. There will also be two machines blowing hot air along the ground. A kicker can warm his foot there.

Will the Patriots freeze? "No, no, no, no," Roche said. "They'll have short sleeves on."

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