Most families have a certain holiday they look forward to every year. Maybe it's the 4th of July or Thanksgiving, or even Labor Day weekend. But for the Santurris, originally from Cranston, R.I., that cherished day of togetherness doesn't appear on any ordinary calendar.
"You celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving and other holidays, but because we're now spread out all over the country, it's a little hard for us to do that," explained family patriarch Rocco Santurri Jr. "But Patriots opening day, it seems like we're always together in Foxborough."
Indeed, Rocco, 69, a long-time Patriots season ticket member, has not missed opening day in decades. This year's Sept. 10 game against the Steelers marked his 44th consecutive home opener. Although Rocco is now a snow bird spending the cooler months in Key Largo, Fla., he always waits until after that first game at Gillette Stadium to head south for the winter.
"I've always come to the season opener because it's a whole new year and a fresh start," Rocco explained. "No matter how bad the team was years ago, we always felt that we had a chance [on opening day]."
The tradition is one he passed on to his children many years ago. Rocco Santurri III and Dayla Arabella Santurri came to their first Patriots game at age 5 and 8, respectively, when the stadium was nothing more than a giant playground to them.
Dad Rocco recalled a game at the old stadium many years ago.
"There was no one in the stands, just like it was almost every game," he said. "And [my son] Roc went in every section. He'd go all the way to the top and then he'd wave and we'd wave to him. All the people around us were season ticket holders and they knew him, so by the end, he'd wave and the whole section would wave. I could see people in the other end of the stadium saying, 'What are they cheering for over there?'"
As the years went on, though, Rocco really began to share his love of football with his kids, who have each attended more than 30 season openers with their dad.
"When I was little, 7 or 8 years old, I could not understand why you went from first down to second down to third down and then back to first down again," remembered Dayla. "My dad and all his buddies would take a lot of time to make us understand the game, and very early it went from being just a fun thing to do with my dad to really appreciating the game.
"At 10 years old, I understood the game a lot more than some grown men," she added with a laugh.
Now that the Santurri family is spread out across the country – Dayla still lives in New England, but her brother Rocco is based in San Diego and step-brother Kenny calls Florida home – they don't make it to as many games as they used to. Still, opening day has remained a fixture on the calendar for Rocco and his three kids, as well as his brother Robert, who is also a season ticket member.
"It's really hard for us to all get anywhere unless it's a funeral or a wedding – or the Patriots home opener," Dayla explained.
"More than anything, it's about family," she added. "It's the one time of year that you see your whole family together and, as we've gotten older, that's become more meaningful."