FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) – It was function over fashion Saturday night as Patriots fans streamed into Gillette Stadium looking like hunters, fishermen and arctic explorers before the AFC playoff game against the Tennessee Titans.

Fans, some of whom had been tailgating for hours, dressed in layer upon layer upon layer to fight off temperatures that had dropped to 4 degrees by kickoff, 10 below zero with the wind chill.

But like the hardy New Englanders they are, they didn’t let it bother them.

“What cold?” Dave Tomes of Londonderry N.H. quipped.

Tomes and his group of friends arrived at the stadium about three hours before the game. He was dressed in a hard hat liner over his head, a ski parka, ski pants and thermal underwear.

Brian Estabrook, 11, also of Londonderry N.H., didn’t notice the cold until he took a walk to the team pro shop, where he bought a team jacket for that one extra layer. “When I was walking down here I didn’t feel that cold,” said Estabrook, attending his first Patriots game. “Then I felt it in the face.”

Team management did its part by opening the team’s indoor practice field as a “warming area” for fans, handing out 10,000 hand warmers, and pouring thousands of cups of free decaffeinated coffee.

Bob Santos and his son Bobby, 17, knew it would be cold at game time, but drove from Newmarket, Md., for the game. They left their home on Friday, stayed overnight in Connecticut, then arrived in Foxboro at about 1 p.m. They went to a nearby hotel to get warm and watch television, but were outside the stadium when the gates opened at 6:15 p.m.

“There was no way I was going to miss this,” said the elder Santos, a New England native who has been on the Patriots season-ticket waiting list since 1997. “This is New England weather.”

Season ticket holders Tom Renaud and his wife, Sue, of Sutton, bought some tarpaulins to wrap around two sides of their pop-up tent, arrived three hours before kickoff, and had everything set up within 20 minutes around a gas-powered heater.

But they forgot one thing. They left their food in the cold. Their platter of shrimp was frozen a half-hour after they arrived.

Deb Koziol of Franklin and her three friends arrived at 5 p.m. and brought plenty of wood for their portable fire pit. They were busy cooking chicken wings for easily the coldest game the 10-year season ticket holder can remember.

“I’ve got one of those back things for arthritis to warm up and heat up for eight hours on my back. I’ve got two warmers in my boots and I’ve got two in my gloves,” Koziol said.

Dealing with the cold was a small sacrifice.

“No matter what the weather, it’s the Patriots. But we know we’re going to win tonight, and we’re already ready for next week and the Super Bowl,” she said.

Roger Scales of Billerica and John Gleason of Lowell lucked into a pair of tickets when a friend – a season ticket holder – had a couple leftover because some other friends backed out.

“I’m from Wisconsin, so this is every day for me,” said Gleason, who professed to be a Green Bay Packers fan. “The secret is just to layer. I am wearing four layers.”

While some New England fans thought the weather would be an advantage for the Patriots, Scales wasn’t so sure.

“If there was snow, I’d say the Patriots had an advantage,” he said. “But cold like this, you just can’t get used to it.”

AP-ES-01-10-04 2106EST



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