On Tuesday afternoon in Foxboro, Mass., the sun was shining. Boys and girls held colorful signs welcoming Chad Ochocinco, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals, to New England. Smaller boys and girls jumped on a Patriots-themed moon bounce. For the fans gathered to watch the Patriots at practice, all seemed to be right with the world.Of course reporters are never content with happy circumstances like that, which is perhaps why one of them asked safety Brandon Meriweather whether he was relieved to have been cleared of something of which the reporter assumed Mr. Meriweather had been falsely accused:
“What are you talking about?” Meriweather asked.
“That little shooting matter in Florida,” the reporter replied.
“That has nothing to do with me,” the safety said. “That’s so far behind, I’m not even really trying to talk about it no more.”
Which seems about right.
We were in Foxboro, not Florida. The subject was football, not gunplay. Lighten up, right?
I do not know how much the thousands of fans watching the Pats on Tuesday could tell about their team’s preparations. I do know that lots of those fans were passionate about what they were seeing. Many of them were dressed in team jerseys and wore Pats caps and even face paint, never mind that there was no game. Lots of them shouted the names of favorite players and hollered when those players caught passes uncontested or kicked field goals over phantom linemen or — in the case of Tom Brady — merely stood there being Tom Brady.
In that respect, and in others, training camp this time around has been no different from training camps past. I asked tight end Rob Gronkowski if he thought the crowd was bigger than usual, since the lockout might have had fans feeling especially hungry and grateful for the game.
“Last year it was just as crazy,” he told me.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Even when it’s only almost football time, this is the game with the most secure grip on its fan base, and football’s fan base is huge and varied. Men, sure, but women, too, and lots and lots of children, and though training camp is hard, hot work for the players, some of them desperate to hold their jobs, the Pats and the other teams preparing for the NFL season have managed to make of these sweaty occasions a kind of national carnival.