Fans arrived early Sunday morning
FOXBORO, Mass. -- Thousands of cheering, banner-waving fans sent the New England Patriots to their third Super Bowl in four years on Sunday, as the team prepared to face the Philadelphia Eagles in Jacksonville, Fla., on Feb. 6.
"This is the reason we've been undefeated at home for the last two years. We've got the best fans in the league, we've got the best stadium in the league, and you guys got the best team in the league," quarterback Tom Brady told the screaming crowd.
Fan had begun arriving at the send-off site in the stadium parking lot early Sunday morning, with some boarding free trains en masse from Boston and Providence in red and blue Patriots gear. Before the festivities got under way, fans sipped free coffee.
"Hopefully, we got one more left in us. If we go out and play the way we're capable of, we'll see you all at the parade in a week," Brady said.
Fans lining the parking lot exit cheered and waved as the players afterward departed on buses to Logan International Airport, where the team would take off for Florida.
The event was a stark contrast to last year, when fans gathered behind barricades in bitterly cold weather just to watch the team walk to the buses without ceremony.
This time, a stage was erected with a 20-foot-high screen above. The Patriots cheerleaders danced to loud rock music, the team lined up in suits and ties, and politicians and team officials got up to wave to fans.
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was among the politicians to send the team on its way, calling coach Bill Belichick "the greatest coach in football," and praising owner Robert Kraft. Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri and New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch were also there.
"We know we're going to have to play our best game of the year, and that's what we're going to work on for the next week," Belichick in his brief comments.
Gary Vanderwater, a 46-year-old season ticket holder from Norwell, smoked a cigar and carried a sign to the rally reading "Nobody Beats the Pats." He made a boastful prediction about a Patriots dynasty.
"We're going to win, probably the next three Super Bowls," he said. "The organization is the best there is, and the players have their heads on straight."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press