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Dan Shaughnessy

Expect a backup everywhere you look

FOXBOROUGH -- Are you ready for some consumer fraud?

You've come to the right place, because tonight at Gillette Stadium the Patriots and Tennessee Titans renew hostilities in a battle between teams that just plain don't like each other.

Unfortunately, by the time the second quarter starts, few of the guys on the field will bear any resemblance to the players who battled ferociously in Nashville last New Year's Eve.

Welcome to 2007 preseason football -- games formerly known as "exhibitions." Many years ago, the Lords of the NFL decreed that "exhibition" sounds too much like powder puff, so the league insists on labeling these no-name dances preseason games. I guess it's better than calling them "lightweight football."

Preseason. That means no Laurence Maroney, no Randy Moss, probably no Ty Warren, and not much Tom Brady. It means no heavy lifting for the veterans. The theme for players who are secure in their positions is "do no harm." That's NFL-speak for "don't get hurt."

No doubt practice games are important for coaches' evaluations and players fighting for positions. Preseason is a perfect time for a sixth-round pick out of Michigan to demonstrate that maybe someday he could be as good as Drew Bledsoe. Fantasy footballers can probably track some trends.

The scam is in the pricing. You pay major league prices for Grapefruit football. Tickets for tonight's game cost the same as seats for the super-hyped home opener against the San Diego Chargers (who have done away with all preseason pretense and said that all-world LaDainian Tomlinson will not play in these farces). So the suckers tonight will pay $125 for sideline seats to watch the scrubs trying to impress the coaches. It'll be another $40 to park, same as during the regular season. And light beers for light football will still weigh heavily on your wallet.

It's the price of doing business if you are an NFL fan. Want a season ticket for those eight Patriots home games? You've got to buy a 10-game package, which includes the two Allen Iverson Practice Games. If you don't like it, there's plenty of folks on the waiting list who'll buy the 10 and give away the ridiculous Two Nights In August.

A lot of regular fans skip these sessions and dump the ducats on the mailman, the baby sitter, or the guy who does their taxes. The result of this is a lot of newbies here tonight, and in this spirit the Patriots have issued a special Friday night traffic advisory. The statement warns that "fans should be reminded to allow more time than usual" if they plan on making it for the phony kickoff of the phony game.

Allow more time than usual? To Gillette? This pretty much means that if you've eaten Friday's lunch, you're already toast. Too late, Sparky. I mean, for 1 p.m. Sunday games most Patriots fans leave about six hours before kickoff and stick around a couple hours after the final whistle. A ticket is a time commitment on par with any Ken Burns series you can remember. You don't just go to the game on an afternoon lark. It's breakfast, lunch, dinner, and last call.

And now because of construction on Routes 1 and 495, new parking lots and traffic patterns, Friday afternoon rush hour, Cape traffic, plus all the first-time callers who got tickets from a seasoned season ticket-holder . . . the Patriots are warning you to allow extra time. Sounds like it'll be as much fun as Logan during a Friday blizzard on the first day of February vacation. Very relaxing. And all that just to see if Idaho State's Matt Gutierrez can connect with Bam Childress.

I'd love to inject Bill Belichick with sodium pentathol and find out what he really thinks about the preseason. Does he secretly wish for more games so he could compile more film and do more evaluation? Or are these things a nuisance? We know he'd hate to lose anyone to injury in a meaningless game and clearly he'd never tip his hand strategically when the whole world can get film of the proceedings.

Alas, no truth serum was allowed at practice Wednesday, when Belichick last met with the media. So this is what he said when asked if four preseason games was a good number to get his team ready for the regular season.

"It's whatever it is."

Thanks, Coach. But if you could design a perfect system, would this be it?

"Well, basically I've only been in two systems," he said, clearly not warming to the topic. "That was six when I came into the league and four now. Every once in a while, you get a fifth game, like with the Hall of Fame Game or something like that, like we had in 2000. Occasionally you have that fifth game, but the six games, four games, whatever it is, that's what it is. You try to use that time."

OK, so is four better than six?

"What difference does it make?" he said. "If you get six games, you have more time. If we're going to play six, we play six. If we play four, we play four. If we play two, we play two. As long as everybody is playing the same amount and it's basically equal, then whatever it is, that's what it is. I'm more worried about trying, getting the football team . . . I'm trying to coach them better and try to get them to play better. I'm more worried about that than making schedules in the league."

Cool, Coach. Have fun tonight. You and the 68,756 loco loyalists who love football. But let's remember that hang time tonight will have little to do with punts by Danny Baugher and Tom Malone. Try a couple of hours on 95 South.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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