BOSTON — Football fever has hit New England hard. Perhaps a bit too hard. Following the New England Patriots 28-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday, a rush of Patriots mania has swept through New England like a brisk Nor'easter - and has left in its wake thousands of crazed fans and an ongoing turf battle between local politicians.
For the first time in the history of the organization, the Patriots will host a conference championship game. And fans have been scrambling to get tickets. On Tuesday morning, Foxboro, Mass., police had their hands full with some 7,000 over-zealous Patriots fans who braved crisp early-morning temperatures to acquire 3,000 tickets to Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. After 10 arrests and plenty of mayhem, the police were forced to disperse the raucous crowd after handing out vouchers for only 1,000 tickets.
Moreover, TicketMaster phone lines were flooded by a mind-boggling 11 million calls between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on the same day as fans grappled for another 5,000 tickets, according to Nynex spokesperson Jack Hoey. And for those devout fans who are still empty-handed, "scalpers" are asking for as much as $1,000 per ticket.
Even local politicians are getting into the act. Over the past few months, Boston and Providence, R.I. politicians have been jockeying to secure a location for a new Patriots stadium. When National Football League (NFL) officials attending this Sunday's game at Foxboro opted to stay in Providence, rather than in Boston, Providence Mayor Vincent Cianci Jr. claimed at least a temporary victory.
"[Boston Mayor Thomas] Menino can talk and brag, but the fact of the matter is, when it comes time to make a decision, people choose Providence," Mayor Cianci told the Associated Press.
Massachusetts Gov. William Weld responded with his own jab. "It's getting to be show time," he said. "We have the AFC championship being played here in Massachusetts and what's the host city? The host city is Providence, R.I."
With professional sports as much a business as a game, and where organizations constantly demand modern sports stadiums equipped with high-tech gadgetry and plush corporate boxes, these tit-for-tat spats are becoming increasingly frequent. In 1995, Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns, sent shock waves through the city of Cleveland when he moved his team to Baltimore, even though the Browns had the second-highest average attendance in the NFL for the previous decade.
For the most part, though, Patriots fans have been well-behaved. After all, "Patriots fever" is not without reason. The team boasts one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL and is led by an all-pro cast that includes quarterback Drew Bledsoe, running back Curtis Martin, and tight end Ben Coates. Furthermore, Boston sports fans have lately had little else to cheer about. The woeful Celtics and Bruins have struggled with sub-.500 seasons, and the Red Sox finished seven games behind the first-place New York Yankees in the American League East.
"I think most of the zeal has been pretty healthy," says Mike Lynch, principal sports anchor at WCVB-TV in Boston and host of the weekly TV show "Patriots Preview." "I think people should enjoy it ... Who knows when it's going to happen again."