Follow The Bouncing Ball

An expatriate Patriots fan bar-hops the playoffs.

click to enlarge TEAM SPIRIT: Michelle (Brady) and Richard (Law) - watch the game at Wing House. - Max Linsky
Max Linsky
TEAM SPIRIT: Michelle (Brady) and Richard (Law) watch the game at Wing House.

TEAM SPIRIT: Michelle (Brady) and Richard (Law) watch the game at Wing House.MAX LINSKYFollow The Bouncing BallAn expatriate Patriots fan bar-hops the playoffs.Scene & HerdBy Max LinskyThe best local secret I can give up about my suburban Boston hometown is the exact location of the 1992 issue of Playboy that my friends and I hid in a Store 24. If it's still there (and I'm banking on the poor janitorial skills of the Store 24 staff), it is shoved in the slot between the radiator and the rack of motor oil in the shop's back right corner.

That's all I got.

My family moved to New York when I was 12. I've been gone for so long, and left when I was so young, there just isn't much to hold onto.

Except for sports.

The Red Sox, the Celtics and the Patriots have been my only real links to Boston for a while, and I've clung to them for dear life.

Seeing as how Tampa Bay is coasting along at around 99.8 percent transients, I figured there's gotta be a few other people around here like me - people who traded snow for sunshine but never let their teams go. And on Sunday, as the Patriots prepared to take on the Colts in the second round of the NFL playoffs, I went out looking for my displaced Patriotic brethren.

It was a risky enterprise - who knew if I'd find the right bar?

So I made a game plan: A different bar every quarter.

First Quarter: Ferg'sThe Bar: We sat in the well-lit back room, which had seven TVs. Five of them were showing the game, but for some reason the others had on COPS and a Spanish language soap.

The Fans: Stephanie, Rick and Donald knew each other back in Ipswich, Mass. I found them laughing it up so loudly I wasn't sure they realized there were other people in the bar. (If you've ever driven around Boston, you know we're not so good at respecting other people's space.) As the snow fell on the field, Stephanie offered up the requisite Northerner-in-Florida lines about the beautiful weather and how great it is to always find a parking spot. But I couldn't keep her attention for long. At one point, a Colts player tripped and fell on the muddy field. "It's getting slipperrrry," Stephanie taunted.

Best Thing: Donald admitting that he was a professional freeloader (he's been living at Stephanie's house since she moved to Gulfport in October).

Worst Thing: The poor kid who ran into his old teacher at a neighboring table and had to stand there for 20 minutes while she held his hand and presumably grilled him on what he'd done with his life.

The score: Patriots 0, Colts 0

On the way to the next bar: The Patriots kicked a field goal, I forgot where I was going, and I took one of those ridiculous St. Pete intersections at 50 mph and definitely caught some air.

Second Quarter: Wilson's Sports LoungeThe Bar: Dark as hell - the only light came from the neon Budweiser signs on the wall.

The Fans: Ken and Lee, two guys from Worcester, Mass. who've been coming to Wilson's for more than a decade. They were watching the game, but you got the sense they'd have been in there even if the only thing on were professional bowling. Ken and Lee go way back - Lee's first fistfight was with Ken's kid at summer camp. But no one's holding a grudge, and they're totally in agreement about the Pats. "They're gonna take it," Ken told me.

Best Thing: Ken's chili, which he makes at home and eats out of a Styrofoam bowl at the bar.

Worst Thing: Every TV was tinted differently - especially the big screen, which had a nuclear green hue to it that made each player look like a well-padded alien.

The Score: Patriots 6, Colts 3

Halftime: Ringside CafeI was planning on staying for the third, but figure skating was on the big-screen - on mute, no less.

Third Quarter: Wing HouseThe Bar: Wing House? Why not call it Shorts-That-Wouldn't-Fit-A-3-Year-Old House?

The Fans: Robert and Michele, from Providence, RI and Quincy, Mass. respectively, moved to Florida 18 months ago and are already planning to move back. "I want a good steak and cheese and some real clams," Michelle told me when I asked why they were going home. "Oh - and I miss my family, too."

Best Thing: The walls are decorated like a 15-year-old boy's fantasy room - all boobs and sports heroes. Made me wonder what happened to that Janet Jackson poster I used to have.

Worst Thing: I dunno … the death of women's lib, maybe.

The score: Patriots 13, Colts 3

Fourth Quarter: Midtown SundriesThe Bar: Certainly the most sterile of the four. I could have eaten off my barstool.

The Fans: April and Michael, neither of whom are from New England. But Michael did live in Lynn, Mass. for five years, and he took his love of the Patriots with him when he moved to St. Pete to work at his dad's greyhound kennel at Derby Lane. While he said he liked Tampa Bay, Michael misses Beantown's live music scene. "Every night of the week there was a concert to go to," he said. "And now I find myself sitting around waiting for the Gin Blossoms."

Best Thing: April calling me out on my big head two minutes after I met her. "You have a giant head - just like my dad," she said. Usually people wait least an hour before they start cutting up on my oversized cranium - you gotta respect a lady who does it that quick.

Worst Thing: Nothing. Patriots won. 20-3.

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