The New England Patriots practiced at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO on Wednesday, November 15, 2017.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – It's not every day that civilians get to roam a military base or facility virtually at will. So, it was only natural that the Patriots would want to thank the Air Force Academy personnel who are hosting them this week and allowing them to do just that.
The reigning Super Bowl champs have access to all the Academy's football facilities, including the Falcons' home stadium for locker rooms and weight training, as well as the two grass practice fields located strategically at the base of the Rocky Mountains.
"Yeah, it's great to be here. I have a lot of respect for all the service academies," head coach Bill Belichick said prior to Wednesday's session. He, of course, spent much of his youth on the campus of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, where his father was a longtime assistant football coach.
"I have tremendous respect for them. Yeah, what they do and how hard it is to, No. 1, get into a service academy, No. 2, meet the demands that the service academy puts on you physically, mentally, learning… very proud to be here and very proud of what they do."
"We appreciate them a lot," tight end/co-captain Rob Gronkowski emphasized. "Coach Belichick always talks about the Naval Academy, the Air Force, in meetings, so, it's great to be out here, great to meet the [cadets]."
For most Patriots, experiencing military life on this gorgeous campus is both a novelty and an eye-opener.
"The scenery is beautiful, the people are really, really nice. I'm definitely enjoying myself here," safety/co-captain Duron Harmon gushed after practice.
"It's a cool experience to get out here, get a feel for everything," running back James White acknowledged. "We really have an appreciation for all the hard work they put in."
For long snapper Joe Cardona, an Annapolis graduate, this place is familiar from his having played here on two occasions as a Midshipman.
"I like to give a little 'Go Navy!' It's still a friendly rivalry," he smiled, adding, "I'm honored to be at the [Air Force] Academy. There's a definite appreciation for what the cadets go through and the preparation they put in here on a daily basis. I think it's a great example for us to carry into this work week and move forward to this game [against Oakland in Mexico City] on Sunday."
At the end of today's practice, the Patriots received a surprise visit from above. Several members of the Academy's jump team parachuted out of a plane and landed amidst the team on the practice fields, to the delight of the players and coaches. Gronkowski labeled the parachute entrance "super cool."
"They said they had something for us," he explained. "They pointed up in the air and saw the airplane flying around and I was hoping to see someone jump out and they had, like, eight guys jump out."
"You can't thank these guys enough," added Cardona. "A lot of times, they're excited to come meet us, but seeing them parachute in was a pretty cool experience for everybody on the team."
"I sat in this stadium a couple times over here on the visitor's side," Belichick recalled. "This is a great institution. The discipline and leadership they have here – I hope some of it runs off on me this week. That will be a plus."