All signs around Gillette Stadium point to the opening of a new NFL season. The area surrounding the stadium is inundated with television trucks and network crews. Construction teams are working on special stages for the bonanza of pre-game entertainment. Local and national media have flocked in droves.
It's not to suggest the other 15 games on the Patriots schedule aren't equally as important, but the season opener differentiates itself because of the months of added anticipation that come along with another season. The players and coaches have surely noticed the hoopla surrounding the game. Veteran safety Rodney Harrison was asked how, as a veteran, he would gauge the atmosphere of the team heading into the opener.
"As a reporter, how would you gauge it?" Harrison responded.
"Pretty excited, full of anticipation," the reporter said.
"Is that how you would gauge it?" Harrison said. "I would gauge it the same way. It's pretty excited, definitely well-prepared. But you know what? Still calm and relaxed, but not taking anything for granted. You can't get so excited where you psyche yourself out. You still have to go in there and have it as a controlled atmosphere, but once you get out on the field go wild and crazy."
The Patriots appear more than ready to move on from the preseason. They exit with a 1-3 record but plenty of rested starters, and most importantly no major injuries. All signs point to go. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said during his daily press conference he sensed the heightened atmosphere around his team leading up to the game.
"I think the team is anxious, I think they're excited and they're ready to go," Belichick said. "We'll be ready to go. This is a game, opening day, it's one that has been building since the schedule comes out. Everybody knows when it is; it's the first one. We're getting closer to it, and I think we can feel that atmosphere on the team."
Players and coaches across the board say past history has nothing to do with Thursday night's game, but the fact the opener is against the Indianapolis Colts only adds to the growing hype. The Patriots have won four in a row and five of the last six in the series, including the 24-14 victory in last year's AFC Championship. With a combined 26-6 record in 2003, the two are expected to be conference heavyweights again this season.
"I'm sure that they've been looking at this since the [schedule] came out," Mike Vrabel said. "And it sounds good that it's a re-match game and a revenge game, but it's not. You have to prepare for it separately. If you get caught up in last year then you're going to slip a little bit. We understand the magnitude of it, starting off the season with a huge game and everything that's going to be surrounding it. We're really ready to go and to get this season started."
When it comes to getting started, leave it to the NFL to throw a party for the season opener. The league has turned the game into a full-fledge event, and as part of its nationally televised one-hour "NFL Opening Kickoff" special it has a full slate of musical acts, including Mary J. Blige, Destiny's Child, Elton John, Toby Keith and Lenny Kravitz performing live from Gillette Stadium as well as a performance by Jessica Simpson in Jacksonville.
Belichick, though, clearly showed his disdain for all of the hype surrounding the opener.
"We're not going to be a part of that," Belichick said. "Look, if the players want to watch Mary Blige sing, then I'll get them a good seat in the stands and they can watch it to their heart's content. What we need are people to go out there across the white lines and perform better than the Colts. That's what we need on Thursday night."
Despite all the bells and whistles of a Super Bowl, the players appear even-keeled about the opener. Expect the Patriots to be ready to put on a show that will upstage the other events of the night.
"I think we're pretty calm and cool to be honest with you," Fauria said. "Nobody is uptight, we're practicing hard and practicing smart. Other than the fact there's all these bombs going off in terms of concerts and all these stars. Other than that we're not really affected by it."
Added Troy Brown, "You don't really know if you're ready until you take the field, but the feeling around here is that we're ready."