Real American idols perform at Patriots training camp

A blond 3-year-old boy perched atop his father's shoulders yells, "Flutie, Flutie, Flutie!" catching the attention of New England Patriot Doug Flutie. The NFL quarterback looks up at the boy and smirks. As he signs the youngster's hat, he jokes to the crowd about how the cute boy was used to lure in his autograph.

To call a crowd of 5,000 fans at Patriots training camp "intimate" may sound absurd. But that's exactly how it feels sitting on the sideline grass watching the Patriots practice.

The chance to see my favorite team up close and personal is priceless, literally. I would have gladly paid admission and parking, but no need. Every August, the NFL throws open its stanchions and lets the faithful in for a free look and listen.

You can hear the quarterback yelling out the plays, loud and clear. As the practice progresses, the volume of the crowd noise increases as it approves and disapproves of each play. Near the end, hysteria erupts. The crowd, wearing their NFL best, moves en masse to the rim of the field. They chant the names of the players they want to see - and the players come to them! After experiencing the personal setting of a practice, regular-season games will seem formal. Almost.

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