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Up close and personal

The Patriots kicked off the football season sans pads last night at the Charitable Foundation Kickoff Gala at Gillette Stadium. MC'd by ESPN blowhard Chris Berman, the annual benefit gives the team's faithful fans a chance to actually wine and dine with the world champs in the stadium's swank Fidelity Investments Clubhouse. (The money raised supports charities throughout New England.) As part of the sold-out festivities, lineman Matt Light was presented with the Ron Burton Community Service Award, which is given each year to a Pats player for his philanthropic efforts. Previous winners of the award include ex-Pat Joe Andruzzi and Troy Brown. Pats players new and old made an appearance last night, including QBs led by the stylish Tom Brady, with a swarm of fans who needed a lead blocker to get to him, the always popular Doug Flutie, and Matt Cassel, whose line of autograph-seekers was long considering he's never taken a regular-season snap. Also on hand were Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch, Corey Dillon, Kevin Faulk, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Tully Banta-Cain, Willie McGinest, rookie Logan Mankins, Coach Bill Belichick, and former players Steve Grogan and Andre Tippett. And Tedy Bruschi, who declined to talk to us, saying he was visiting with the fans. The Pats cheerleaders also worked the room, appearing to be even more scantily clad than in years past. Team owner Bob Kraft, wearing his signature white-collared shirt and snazzy gray suit, clearly has high hopes for the 2005 season. ''When we bought this team 11 years ago, we'd never sold out a season or been able to put on events like this," he said. ''We've come through the preseason without any major injuries, so we're looking forward to a good season." (Kraft was not wearing a Super Bowl ring having ''given" his 2004 season bauble to Russian president Vladimir Putin.) . . . Senator Ted Kennedy was spotted at the Crown Royal Club at Fenway Park during last night's game with a large contingent that included his sons, Edward M. Kennedy Jr. and Patrick, a Rhode Island congressman.

Cooking up a surprise

Todd English was alternately roasted and feted at his surprise 45th birthday bash at Gypsy Bar the other night. The crowd of well-wishers included the chef's ex, Olivia, and their children; No. 9 Park owner Barbara Lynch; Ed Kane of Waterworks; ''Cooking Under Fire" producer Laurie Donnelly; Priceline.com co-founder Jord Poster; and Boston magazine food writer Annie Copps. MC Tony V teased that English has the personality of wood: ''It's good wood, like mahogany, but it's wood." . . . Speaking of Gypsy Bar, ''Rescue Me" stars Mike Lombardi and Callie Thorne will be mixing drinks there Sept. 22. . . . After gigging at the Tweeter Center the other night, enviro-friendly singer Gavin DeGraw gave the keys to a brand-new Honda Hybrid to KISS 108 listener Tom Chernicki.

'Top Chef' has local flavor

When shooting starts on ''Top Chef" -- the new reality cooking show on Bravo -- Boston will be well represented. Picked to appear on the show, which begins filming in LaLa Land in October, are Bill Bradley of the soon-to-open Incontro in Franklin; Marisa Iocco of Bricco and Mare in the North End, as well as Umbria; and Tom Berry of Straight Wharf restaurant on Nantucket. Bravo, its parent company NBC-Universal, and Boston Casting held an invite-only casting call yesterday for area chefs to vie for spots on the series.

Sharing the 'Things I Love'

Bill Koch, whose art collection is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, showed up at last night's opening party attended by more than 300 guests. A resident of Palm Beach, Fla., and Osterville, Koch was joined by the MFA board of trustees chair Susan Paine; restaurateur Darryl Settles, who's on the MFA board of overseers; and Thomas Payzant, superintendent of the Boston Public Schools. The show ''Things I Love: The Many Collections of William I. Koch" runs through Nov. 13.

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