RALEIGH — Steam from boiling-hot clam chowder mixes with the malty smell of Samuel Adams Boston lager in the dense bar air. It's crawling with blue-and-silver clad New Englanders. Chants of "Go Pats, Go!" can be heard for blocks.
No, this isn't Foxborough. Or Boston. Or anywhere near Massachusetts. This is 700 miles away.
But when Baltimore Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying 32-yard field goal Sunday, clinching a Super Bowl bid for the New England Patriots, the cheers could be heard in Southie.
This is the heart of ACC hoops country, but for at least 16 weekends of the year, local bars such as The Brickhouse on Hillsborough Street become headquarters for NFL fan clubs and the Triangle's thousands of transplants that occupy them.
Todd King, for example, is a Dracut, Mass., native who moved to Apex in 2004.
The first thing he did? Start a Patriots fan club: New England Patriots Fans of North Carolina.
Now, King and dozens of the club's 500 members meet at The Brickhouse for every Pats game. More than 200 were there Sunday to watch the Patriots play the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game.
"People have said, 'Oh, you Yankees, there's too many of you moving down here,' " King said while pacing under the five big-screen televisions at The Brickhouse. "But they love it when we spend our money in the bars and help boost their economy.
"But it doesn't really matter what they say. I'm a Southerner now. I love it here. I recommend it to people up (in New England) all the time. I'm never going to leave. You couldn't take me back at gunpoint."
Of the 27 states he's lived in, King said North Carolina's schools and the weather make the Tar Heel State his favorite.
On game day, all regionalism goes out the window, he said.
"It's all about camaraderie," the 42-year-old said.
King takes Pats games very seriously. He will not sit down, eat or drink anything except Sam Adams during a game.
He said he also won't eat at a restaurant or have sex the night before a game.
In fact, for King, team allegiances run deeper than even personal feuds. His ex-wife, Theresa O'Toole, designs and operates the fan club website. The two coordinate fan meet-ups and see each other every time the Patriots play.
"We're still good friends," he said. "The Pats do a lot to keep people together."
Because of their teamwork in organizing the fan club, King said he hasn't had to watch a Patriots game from his home since he first moved to North Carolina.
"It's great. You wouldn't believe how many Pats fans there are in the Triangle."
Passionate fans invade
Indeed, this area is full of transplants.
In fact, more than 194,000 people moved to Durham, Johnston, Orange and Wake counties between 2005 and 2010, IRS tax return data shows.
Of those, 75,970 came from New Jersey (where the New York Giants play), New York, California, Maryland and Massachusetts - states with NFL teams that played Sunday in their respective conference championship games.
About 8,600 of those are from Massachusetts.
The majority of those who relocated, however, are from New York. About 27,500 people moved from there to here between 2005 and 2010.
About 13,100 New Jersey residents also relocated here during that time.
During football season, you might find a few hundred of them at Duffy's Tavern or the Downtown Sports Bar and Grill in Raleigh - where the N.Y. Giants Triangle fan club meets.
"There were probably 400 (Giants fans) here to watch them play the (Green Bay) Packers," said Todd Chriscoe, a Downtown Sports Bar manager. "For this game (against the San Francisco 49ers), we had tons of people trying to reserve seats."
Chriscoe said he brings special dishes to the bar for playoff games. When the Giants played the Packers, he brought a platter of cheeses.
For the 49ers, it was Rice-A-Roni and Anchor Steam beer.
"It's the atmosphere they want to be a part of," Chriscoe said.
The Glenwood South bar is always full and rowdy for Giants games, Chriscoe said. "I think there are more Giants fans (in Raleigh) than there are Panthers fans."
Many Ravens fans, meanwhile, met in Raleigh at Lynnwood Grill on Grove Barton Road.
The group North Carolina Ravens Fans reserves the back room for 70 to 80 people for every Ravens game.
Damion and Jill Burtis, both Maryland natives, drive from Clayton to watch the games.
The crab cakes aren't as good here as they are in Baltimore, but the room full of fans makes it feel a lot like home.
"The vibe you get from other fans who are just as passionate as you," Damion Burtis said, "it gives you a good high."
News researcher David Raynor contributed to this report.