FOXBOROUGH — For the crowd of expectant fans lining the sidewalk outside Gillette Stadium on Monday afternoon, it was a sight many of them had seen before. The Patriots were back from the Super Bowl and they had the Vince Lombardi Trophy in tow.
Yet for Jason McCourty — who only a year ago endured a brutal 0-16 season with the Cleveland Browns — the triumphant return to Foxborough was as unfamiliar as it was euphoric. Bill Belichick, making perhaps his final coaching decision of the completed season, decided to let Jason carry the trophy off the bus.
“That was the last bit of energy I had for today,’’ said Jason, who matched the fans’ enthusiasm as he happily displayed the sixth trophy brought back to New England. “Bill handed me the trophy, I didn’t know what to do with it, so I just ran and cheered. I’m excited for the fans and everybody here.’’
The crowd began gathering at Patriot Place over an hour before the team touched down at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, R.I. Nearby, the Patriots’ ProShop buzzed with activity as fans clambered for commemorative gear. Many simply congregated outdoors, taking advantage of the unseasonably warm temperatures.
As for the players, they followed the example of the McCourty twins upon returning and celebrated with the crowd.
Still, there was a more reserved tone for some of them, in part due to the inevitable fatigue that accompanies playing in, winning, and celebrating a Super Bowl.
“I think it’s finally sunk it,’’ said Adrian Clayborn. “I’m tired, partying all last night was exciting.’’
Fellow defensive lineman Adam Butler had a different reaction. Asked if becoming a Super Bowl champion had sunk in for him, he pondered the question before acknowledging, “I don’t think so.’’
“I mean I cried a little bit yesterday, and my parents came up and cried a little bit more,’’ said Butler of the aftermath, “but I don’t think it’s really sunk in. I wouldn’t have picked anybody else to share [that moment] with.’’
Clayborn and Butler were part of only a handful of players who spoke to reporters after returning to Gillette Stadium. The Patriots’ normally bustling locker room saw only a few appearances. Most were ready for some rest before Tuesday’s parade.
“We’ve got a great city,’’ said Butler, who signed as an undrafted free agent out of Vanderbilt in 2017 and has already played in two Super Bowls.
His thoughts on what to expect during the parade were a little less formed.
“More screaming fans, maybe more confetti?’’ Butler joked. “I don’t know. I’ve never been.’’
The McCourty twins also made their way into the locker room, which at that point was nearly empty except for a group of media clustering around fellow defensive back Keion Crossen.
One topic that remained notably unanswered was what their football future might be.
“I’m excited about these duck boats,’’ Jason said, attempting to change the subject.
“The only thing I’ve thought about it is the parade, and that ring ceremony,’’ said Devin. “Two more times with this team, so that’s going to be fun. I can’t wait for those two events.’’
“All the moments, I’m just trying to remember them all,’’ Jason explained. “I’ve been responding to text messages all day today, but it’s been fun.’’
One moment Jason remembered vividly was when he knew he would become a Super Bowl champion.
“It wasn’t really until they missed that field goal, the realization that there was nothing that they could do,’’ Jason said. “We were going to get the ball, take a knee, and that was going to be all she wrote.
“I was literally standing next to [Devin] on the field goal block team and that kick goes up, is wide left, and we just looked at each other. I remember running to the sideline and just looking at my family screaming in the stands and realizing that was it. Super Bowl champ 53.’’
What the Patriots do now is less clear.
After the parade, players begin the offseason. The freedom of being done with team activities for a few months has some uncertainty. Yet as Butler described, it’s a good problem to have.
“I’m not sure,’’ Butler said of his vacation plans. “I need to make a jar and shake it up and just pick a place and go.’’