JEFF Campbell used to be fond of wearing the jersey of whatever team opposed the New England Patriots while working as the bar manager at J.W. Hill's Sports Bar and Grille.
"People were taking it a little too personally," said Campbell, who took a few jeers from customers two years ago when he wore a Baltimore Ravens jersey when the Patriots beat the Ravens to advance to the Super Bowl.
But as he prepared for the crowds that began filtering into the Elm Street restaurant on Saturday night prior to the Patriots game against the Indianapolis Colts, Campbell was sporting a jersey of the New Orleans Saints, who played the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday. He just couldn't bring himself to wear a Patriots jersey, he said.
"But now I'm wearing a jersey for the other game, so I'll be safe" from customer taunts, he said.
He also predicted that the Patriots would win, 34-32. "Yeah, it's a weird score," he said.
At the Arena Sports Bar in Nashua, manager Matt Paton said the establishment, with its 44 large-screen TVs all tuned to the Patriots game, had about 400 patrons at 8 p.m. Saturday, about 15 minutes before kickoff.
"Let's just say it's a full house now and that's before the Pats game has started," he said.
Paton said he brought in six bartenders to work Saturday night for the game.
For the 'tenders of sports bars, a playoff game featuring a home team brings unique challenges to their job and, they hope, good tips.
"I'm hoping it'll be busy," Melanie Margeson, a bartender at Buffalo Wild Wings in Concord, said Friday night. "I'm hoping it'll be packed in here."
"It's definitely going to be crazy," Campbell said. "It's a cool atmosphere."
The crowd, though, tends to be different from typical Saturday night drinking crowds, said Chris Steinman, a bartender at The Draft Sports Bar and Grill in Concord.
"This is going to be a sports crowd," he said.
Margeson, who predicted the Patriots would beat the Colts, 21-7, said her patrons won't be the usual Saturday night customers either.
"Usually, it's families doing a Saturday family outing. (For the game), this will be our usual rowdy Sunday crowd coming in on a Saturday night."
And the crowd likely will come - and go - almost simultaneously, said Steinman, who predicted a score of 28-14, "for the Patriots of course.""About 30 minutes before the game starts is when they'll hit us. And it hits us all at the same time," he said.The bartenders said the crowds likely will prompt a flurry of food and drink orders, followed by two hours of relative peace as people nurse a beer or two while watching the game.
"It's actually a really easy, low-key kind of night" for drink service, Campbell said. "Everybody is so focused on the game."
"You know they're just going to be camping out for a while," Steinman said.
As for tips? Well, that depends, Campbell said. Patrons tend to be happier, and more generous, if the Patriots win.
"The place definitely deflates at the end of the game if they don't win," he said. "Or it can feel like you're at the game if they do."