FOXBOROUGH — Dressed in shirts and ties, casual attire, and letterman jackets, coaches and players soaked in the moment as they staked out Gillette Stadium on Tuesday morning.
Representing all 16 Super Bowl finalists . . . from Blackstone Valley Tech to Mashpee, Dennis-Yarmouth to West Springfield, Everett to Xaverian, and yes, Hoosac Valley to Millis, the players were treated to an early-morning breakfast and later, a tour of the stadium.
All relished the opportunity to walk onto the field that has hosted signature moments over the past two decades, from AFC Championship game thrillers to MIAA Super Bowls.
Middleborough coach Pat Kingman escaped the media scrum to throw the ball around with his young son, Sam. Members of the Hoosac Valley and West Springfield teams rested from cross-state journeys by sitting on the sideline benches, soaking up the bright fall sun. Roughly 20 yards away, North Attleborough captains Sam Bullock, Chad Peterson and Zach DeMattio stood near midfield, still somewhat stunned that they had truly reached this point.
“It’s nice enough to get acclimated here, but as soon as the game starts, it will be a completely different feeling,” said Peterson. His Red Rocketeers (11-1) have rattled off 11 straight wins since a season-opening loss to Division 2 finalist King Philip to earn the program’s first bowl trip since 2012.
North Attleborough will play St. John’s Shrewbury in the D3 Super Bowl on Friday night at 5.
“We definitely have to take a minute to consider where we are before the game starts, but then put it out of our minds,” added Bullock.
“Still, it definitely means a lot to be able to play here.”
Before squaring off this weekend, the players broke bread, gobbling up scrambled eggs, coffee, sausages, and bacon. Friday and Saturday foes exchanged laughs, debated over which muffins on the buffet were better, and played pranks on one another — such as dumping sugar into a coach’s coffee who is known to take it black.
Team captains converged for a coin toss to determine the home teams for the Bowls. Xaverian, King Philip, St. John’s Shrewsbury, Melrose, Dennis-Yarmouth, Middleborough, Mashpee and Hoosac Valley will be the hosts.
It was truly the calm before the storm.
However, all listened intently when Patriots Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett took the podium.
Tippett reminisced about his playing days, and the strong bond that still exists with Frank Verducci, his high school coach at Barringer High School in Newark.
He referenced a sign that was positioned behind Verducci’s desk.
“Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will never achieve it. But on the way, we will surely capture excellence.”
Henry Brechter can be reached at email@example.com.