Originally created 05/11/02

Patriots' new stadium scheduled for 'soft opening'



FOXBORO, Mass. -- Of all the changes the New England Patriots made to their new stadium after construction began, the last one was the best: expansion of a display case for the Super Bowl trophy they won in February.

Four months before the NFL champions open their season against Pittsburgh at CMGI Field, owner Bob Kraft's $325 million labor of love debuts Saturday night with a Major League Soccer game between the New England Revolution and the Dallas Burn.

The event, described as a "soft opening," was chosen so the stadium could be tested at its soccer capacity of 22,000 before letting in the 68,000 who will fill it for the Patriots. Many areas in the luxury suite and upper deck sections are still under construction.

"With Foxboro Stadium as a comparison, you're going to see a lot of things that are night-and-day different," Patriots spokesman Stacey James said. "You will see, hear and feel the difference. And you won't step into any potholes in the concourse anymore."

Make that concourses.

The new building has three of them, one at every level, each twice as wide as the single 35-foot one in the old stadium. Each also allows a view of the game; so does the main entrance, where from outside the gate a modern-day knothole gang can see the players come out of the tunnel before the game.

The Patriots hope to have the new park ready for their exhibition opener Aug. 17 against Philadelphia. The Rolling Stones will open their world tour there on Sept. 5.

But the Patriots' regular-season opener against Pittsburgh on Sept. 9 will be the true coming-out party for the stadium, with pictures of its soon-to-be recognizable lighthouse rising above the rocks shown on Monday Night Football in a rematch of the AFC title game.

The broadcast will show a much different place than the one viewers were used to seeing, with its metal benches, stark concrete facade and traffic delays that could keep fans waiting to get out of the parking lots for hours after the games.

James said the Patriots told the architects - the same ones who revolutionized baseball stadiums by bringing the throwback look to Baltimore - "Do for a football stadium what Camden Yards did for baseball. Make the facility so user-friendly that it changes the way a fan watches the game."

For the Patriots, whose fans and players were accustomed to one of the worst stadiums in sports, that was the easy part.

The most noticeable feature is the metal-frame lighthouse that sends a beacon skyward and sits vigil over a facsimile rocky shore, complete with local seagrass. Inside, the stadium features two areas where club seat owners can watch the game, book a business meeting or hold a wedding.