Visiting teams arrive at Gillette Stadium up a thin-ribbon of a back road called Putnam Parkway, a private, secret entrance far from the traffic and tailgating out on Route 1. To get there team buses weave through classic New England roads and the quaint neighborhoods of Foxborough.
Then it hits them. Emerging suddenly from the thick woods behind the New England Patriots‘ lower practice field is the site of the towering stadium — 16 stories itself — elevated further up on a hill with bright lights stretching even deeper into the sky above it.
It belies the NFL’s traditional city center or smacked alongside interstate locations. It feels, especially on those dark Massachusetts nights, like a foreboding spot, somewhere the NFL hardly even belongs.
Not surprisingly, rival players have long called it one of the league’s more intimidating places to play.
Height, light and location are just part of it, of course. What was waiting inside mattered more, namely that from its opening in 2002 until a year ago, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick teamed up to make it hell on their opponents. In games Brady started, the Patriots went 117-19 in the regular season and 19-4 in the playoffs.