Kodiak, Ala., is almost 5,000 miles from Foxborough. It isn't an easy or quick trip by any means, but for Brandy Wagner it was one she knew she had to make.
The Patriots hosted an in-stadium practice on Aug. 6 for Foxborough residents and season ticket members, marking the first time Patriots fans were in Gillette Stadium to watch the team in any capacity since January 2020. When Wagner's friend, a season ticket holder, offered her a seat in the stands, her reaction was immediate and decisive.
"I wanted to see my guys," Wagner said. "I had the opportunity, and I said screw it. I'm going to go see my guys."
Wagner walked into Gillette Stadium for the first time with a sign that left no questions about how dedicated she is to the team. "I flew from Alaska to see the Patriots." For Patriots fans outside of New England, it is a tall task to keep up with the team. It means waking up early or staying up late to watch, getting flack from fans of the local team, and going to great lengths to travel to see the Patriots in person. Yet, there are Patriots fans all over the world who go above and beyond to show their support.
Wagner watched the Patriots defeated the Raiders in the AFC Championship in January 2002. The team shocked the football world, and as she put it, that's all it took to reel her in.
"I've been hooked ever since," she said.
Throughout the season, Wagner watches from the other side of the country and keeps up from a distance. Under the Friday night lights, however, Wagner closed the gap between her and her favorite team. Watching from the north end zone as the Patriots practiced, it was a surreal moment.
"I still don't quite believe it. I'm just overjoyed," Wagner said.
As the NFL welcomes back fans for the 2021 season, there will be milestone after milestone reached that signal a return to some semblance of normalcy. The first in-stadium practice with fans since 2019 felt a bit like a homecoming for Patriots fans in attendance. Though that is a feeling that is sure to grow at the first preseason game on Aug. 12 and especially the season opener in September, it was special to be there when Patriots fans walked through the Gillette Stadium gates on Friday night, Wagner said.
"It means so much. It just brings me back to [the idea] that when we go through adversity, we are all Patriots," Wagner said. "We come back stronger every single time. I can't even describe the joy. It fills my heart."