|Stew Milne / Associated Press|
|Patriots guard Logan Mankins greets fans at a rally at Gillette Stadium.|
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Packed to capacity in the lower level on one side of Gillette Stadium on Sunday, Patriots fans watched replays from the AFC Championship Game victory that put New England into Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants.
A few minutes later, those roughly 25,000 fans sent the players off on their short journey to Indianapolis in style.
"This never gets old, huh?" running back Kevin Faulk asked the raucous crowd. "The one question I was asked during the offseason was, `Why are you coming back, Kevin?'
"This is it, right here."
Following the 13-minute program on a stage constructed at the 50-yard line, the players skirted the lower level of seats on their way out of the stadium, high-fiving fans and filming the celebration along the way before boarding busses bound for the airport.
"You guys are the reason why we're in the spot we're in, because we had home-field advantage throughout the end, and we were able to take advantage and now we're in the Super Bowl," said receiver Wes Welker. "That's what it's all about.
"I promise you all, all of these guys, with the way we're going to play this next Sunday, we're going to give it everything we've got out there and you're going to be proud to support the New England Patriots."
Linebacker Jerod Mayo touched on the difficult year endured by team owner Robert Kraft, whose wife, Myra, passed away July 20 after a battle with cancer. The team dedicated this season to her, wearing oval patches with the initials "MHK" on their uniforms right above their hearts.
"At the beginning of the season, (Kraft's son and team president) Jonathan and I met with the team and told them that they would wear an MHK patch over their hearts," said Robert Kraft, the final speaker who took the stage to chants of "MHK." "And they really dedicated this season to her and all the volunteers in America who make this country great."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press