Patriots DE Chris Long on practicing in front of 21K fans: 'Excitement in the air'

Fans came out in droves to watch the Patriots practice. Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Saturday's third practice of New England Patriots training camp had an "event" feel to it, with the ramps to Gillette Stadium opened for the overflowing crowd on an 80-degree, picturesque morning. The team announced that 21,781 fans attended, and there were stories of some who were turned away.

One player, in particular, couldn't help but notice the vibe.

"It's awesome. As if just being in pads for the first day isn't exciting enough, you come out and these fans give you a real boost," said veteran defensive Chris Long, who spent the first eight years of his career with the Rams, where there was seldom, if ever, such a turnout for practice.

"It just speaks to the passion that these folks have. We're warming up in the hot tub and we can see the fans coming in on ESPN or NFL Network; they beat us out on the field. It's pretty cool what they have going here."

Long's connections to the region are well-documented. His father, Howie, grew up in Charlestown and then attended Milford High School, which is 20 miles north of Gillette Stadium. Howie Long, who would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, attended his first Patriots game in 1976.

Now Chris is experiencing the buzz of New England sports first hand.

"There is an excitement in the air with these fans. They're awesome sports fans, Boston, I've always known them to be very passionate," he said. "But until you're here, you really don't get a feel for it."