It was a night for the fans

Telegraph Sports Reporter Tom KIng.

The wait on Thursday was over. Banner No. 5 was unveiled. Roger Goodell was on the turf pregame at Gillette Stadium, visible enough to be booed.

And the Patriots opened up defense of their latest Super Bowl title. The National Football League season is underway.

Of course, the wait was long and hard for a lot of Patriot fans, including locals, as prior to the game, they were getting ancy.

“I’ve been waiting for this all summer,” Nashua’s Hank Parkinson, a Patriots season ticket holder for over 25 years, said. “It’s

been on my calendar for months and months and months.”

Merrimack High School principal Ken Johnson has been a longtime season ticket holder. Like many of them, he doesn’t go down to preseason games, so he couldn’t wait for Thursday’s opener.

“Really looking forward to it,” he said. “This is when you realize how fortunate you are to have season tickets.

“But how excited am I? Today was declared ‘Patriots Day’ at MHS. The origin of our school motto dates back to 2002 – “Believe, go forward and inspire”. It’s when Brady chose not to take a knee (in the Super Bowl final drive).

Now that’s a fan. The biggest moment before the game may have been when Brady made his traditional run down the field, pumping his fist to the fans at the enclosed end – maybe 20 feet away from where Goodell was talking to some bigwigs.

But few fans noticed it, they were taking in the excitement of the night.

“Can’t believe it, unbelievable,” Parkinson said prior to the game. “Championship Number 5. I never thought in a million years I would see five banners go up in my lifetime, much less one.

“I’m getting goosebumps now just telling you. The greatest comeback in the history of the Super Bowl?”

This was a night more for the fans than the players. There were all the Goodell clown towels – the Barstool Sports invention – and the big pre-game ceremony, the huge hype and hoopla over not only the start of the season but the Patriots epic comeback Super Bowl win. Pre-game entertainment by recording star Flo Rida. Former Patriots Matt Light, Deion Branch, Kevin Faulk, and the injured Julian Edelman holding four Lombardi trophies. The banner unveiling finished the fun.

“I got a towel early,” Parkinson said. “Friends had six, but they were hard to get.”

The Patriots, though, had to keep in mind they were playing a game. One that counted. The hoopla? The players got their rings in June, that’s when they closed the book on the 2016 season and its Super Bowl.

“That’s kind of for the fans,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said earlier this week.

“I mean, this team has thought about (last) season. That was gret. We celebrated and had a great time, but I mean, this team has to earn its own. Everything we get, we’re going to have to earn. … Every team starts at the same place. It’s a challenging season.”

The ho-hum preseason is done. No more worrying about who the backup strong safety is or who the punt return man is. Johnson actually raffles off his preseason game seats to new teachers in the Merrimack district. “Their eyes light up, they say ‘I’ve never been to Foxborough or a Patriots game.'”

Parkinson actually went off script down to a preseason game this summer – the first one vs. Jacksonville a month ago – which he normally doesn’t do. “I wanted to take my wife down, it was kind of nice to come here and see what’s going on. Usually I don’t go to those. It was a nice night, warm, why not.”

But nothing compared to Thursday night. It was a night for the regulars, so different than the previous week’s preseason finale when the Gillette stands were maybe two-third full. These banner raising nights never get old.

“I’ve been to all of them,” Parkinson said. “It’s incredible, fireworks, band. It’s enourmous.”

Thursday night, another Patriots night to remember.

“Oh, forever,” Parkinson said.

Forever. A night for the fans like Hank Parkinson and Ken Johnson, and some 70,000 others. And aren’t they what it’s all about?

Tom King can be reached at 594-1251,tking@nashuatelegraph.com., or @Telegraph_TomK.