Hundreds flocked Saturday to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., to swap out garb emblazoned with No. 81, the digits worn by the team's former tight end before he was charged in June with the murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd.
|New England Patriots fans came out to Gillette Stadium on Saturday to participate in the Aaron Hernandez jersey exchange. (Michael Dwyer/Associated Press)|
The exchange, which opened its doors on Saturday, got off to a brisk start. By 11 a.m. ET, more than 500 jerseys -- including 100-plus youth jerseys -- had been traded in, Patriots spokesman Stacey James told NFL.com and NFL Network. As of 5 p.m., those numbers were up to nearly 1,200 jerseys, including 300 in youth sizes, James said.
Exchanges also are available online this weekend at the team's official store.
Fans were given the choice of authentic Vince Wilfork, Tom Brady or Rob Gronkowski jerseys, along with replicas for a wider list of players. The most popular replacement on Saturday was Wilfork followed by Brady, Chandler Jones and Stevan Ridley, James said.
As fans flowed through the stadium's ProShop, Mike Vitelli, parent to a young Patriots fan, told The Boston Globe that the team's gesture was appreciated.
"They're going to lose a lot of money on this, but that's what makes it one of the best organizations definitely in the NFL," Vitelli said.
Amid reports that Hernandez's jersey was commanding up to $1,200 on eBay, fan Chris Sousa told the newspaper that he wanted no part of that operation.
"There's no point," Sousa said. "I'm not in the game for that stuff. (Hernandez is) a good player. There's no need to defame his name and sell his stuff out there. I stayed true to who I am."
The Patriots said they aren't making a profit off the exchange, but they've taken a positive step toward cleansing the offseason of one of the darker narratives in team history. Extending a helping hand to the fan base is a start.
Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.