A modest crowd of about a dozen mostly Russians gathered at 2 a.m. in the midst of a storm bad even by Moscow standards to watch that most American of sports, football and its climactic event of the year. Appropriately enough for a restaurant called “Patriots,” most were rooting for New England. They looked occasionally puzzled by some of the play reviews because understanding what qualifies as a catch in today’s NFL is a global issue. They were hoping for a good game and willing to endure a sleepless night to see it.
Tensions between the countries are at their worst in decades after Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and many Russians find themselves occasionally wondering what Americans think of them, and vice versa. Just last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning that U.S. intelligence services are on a “hunt” to detain Russian citizens traveling abroad. The United States had for its part warned that in Russia, “U.S. citizens are often victims of harassment, mistreatment and extortion by law enforcement and other officials,” the State Department announced last month.
Luckily in the Patriots Restaurant, tensions largely revolved around technical difficulties streaming the game during the first quarter resulting in constant interruptions. But once those were resolved, it was just football fans watching the biggest game of the year — not so different from the millions doing the same many time zones away.
“In every country, there’s good people and bad people,” said Elizabeth Loshkareva, the restaurant’s manager. “As it concerns politics, there’s wonderful people in America, and there’s people who say smart things and people who say things that are funny to us. We have the same people. The one thing that nobody likes is this cold war.”
There’s no mistaking the allegiances of Patriots Restaurant when it comes to football teams. Photos of Brady and his teammates adorn the small space. A banner with the years of New England's Super Bowl championships hangs beside the big projector screen. There’s a display on one wall that includes a Patriots-themed Russian nesting doll, a Brady bobblehead, footballs and baseball caps. The story of how all of these items got here leads to the more interesting tale as to why this Russian restaurant with a Russian owner is dedicated to an American football team in Massachusetts.
Moscow has its own football team, and it happens to be called the Moscow Patriots. The players and their coach often meet here and watch New England’s football games on NFL Game Pass, though it’s not always easy with the U.S. East Coast eight hours behind. Alexander Pavlov, the owner of the Dr. Loder Fitness chain of Moscow gyms and a benefactor of the Moscow Patriots, received the signed football from a former New England player who visited the restaurant for the grand opening. Other items were given by New England Patriots fans. The Moscow Patriots are particularly proud of a photo of Ilya Yaroshuk, a linebacker for the team in the early 1990s, posing with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
“The New England Patriots know of the Moscow Patriots,” said Anton Potapov, a running back for the Moscow Patriots.
Potapov became interested in football after he started playing the Madden video game. He was cheering for New England on Monday morning, though Coach Victor Skapishev cheered for Philadelphia because he attended a camp with some Eagles coaches roughly 14 years ago. One of his players was simply rooting for the Eagles because it’s warmer in Philadelphia than it is in Massachusetts. One gentleman just cheered every time either team scored.
“This happens once a year,” Skapishev said. “You can allow yourself one night without sleep.”
The bar continued to serve food through the night, and this was a fairly tame Super Bowl party. Because the restaurant is part of a Dr. Loder gym, the only alcohol available was Carlsberg beer. Bins of whey protein were on display behind the bar, and the restaurant had coffee, tea and juice options. Employees had questions about the routine of a football game. What is halftime exactly? As the third quarter began, they wondered how much longer the game would last. Justin Timberlake’s halftime performance was largely ignored, and no one offered thoughts on the commercials this year.
The most vocal fan was Tsachi Slater, a PhD student visiting from Israel. His father was born in Boston, so the Patriots fandom was passed down. In Moscow for a week, he brought a Brady T-shirt and a hoodie with 28-3 written on it, a reference to New England’s incredible comeback in last year’s Super Bowl. An Internet search revealed several Super Bowl parties around Moscow, but he was naturally drawn to the Patriots-themed one.
As the Eagles celebrated their improbable 41-33 victory, Slater finished his espresso and left with a disappointed sigh. The feed of the game was cut off before the Lombardi Trophy presentation. The Moscow Patriots promptly cashed-out and started to head home. It was nearly 7 a.m., and a whole day of work stretched ahead. This group will get together for games again next season, feeling a certain kinship to the American players with the same team name.
“We tell everyone that they're our friends,” Potapov said.