NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH — Ask Nancy Deblois and her daughter about the New England Patriots players who live here in their hometown and they rattle off an impressive list of champions.
Former linebacker Tedy Bruschi has a home in nearby Westwood Estates and supports area charities, Deblois said.
“He is a pillar in the community,” Deblois, 49, said on the front lawn of her house during a yard sale on Saturday.
“If you are lucky, you can see him at the grocery or the garden supply store,” her daughter, Laura-Lee Lange, 29, interjected from a nearby lawn chair.
Then there is guard Logan Mankins and linebacker Jerod Mayo, who both bought houses here last year.
“We love having them,” Lange said. “They are a great part of the community.”
Deblois’s mother, Gloria Labonte, 73, nodded as the two spoke.
And what about Aaron Hernandez?
“I loved him. I would have married her off to him,” Deblois said, playfully jabbing her daughter before pausing for a moment. “Not any more though.”
Hernandez continues to be embroiled in the investigation of the slaying of Odin Lloyd, the 27-year-old found shot to death less than a mile from the player’s home in the posh Westwood Estates section of North Attleborough last Monday. Law enforcement officers and police dogs entered his house Saturday and conducted a nearly four-hour search, including calling in a locksmith, while questions continued to swirl.
This quiet town in the heart of Patriots country has found itself in the national spotlight as police and media have descended on Hernandez’s home on Ronald C. Meyer Drive.
It’s not the first time North Attleborough has found itself in the news for the wrong reasons. Protesters and television crews swarmed the city in May when a funeral home briefly had the remains of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, before they were sent to Worcester.
The town was also rocked in 1993 when the Rev. James R. Porter was convicted of sexually abusing some 100 young boys and girls at parishes in North Attleborough, New Bedford, and Fall River in the 1960s.
“In good old North Attleborough, bad things happen,” Deblois said, shaking her head.
But the latest scandal strikes at the heart of what has been a source of pride for the town and the region: the football team and the fabled Patriots’ Way.
Silas Kwimba, 44, moved to North Attleborough two years ago and works part time at a Target in Plainville. The Patriot’s section of the store routinely sells out of “anything with the logo on it” once football season starts at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, less than 10 miles away.
“Massive amounts of people come into the section of the store,” he said while waiting outside a laundromat Sunday afternoon. “They just buy everything.”
When the Patriots make their playoff runs, it’s like “football Christmas” in the surrounding area said 47-year-old Kevin Anfield, of Attleboro, at another yard sale Saturday.
Lawns are filled with inflatable players and goal posts, the traffic reaches a standstill, and football is all anyone can talk about, he said.
Almost as important as winning is the way they win — “with respect,” Anfield said. “It’s the Patriots’ Way.”
“Then you hear about this and you are shocked,” he said of the investigation into Hernandez. “For the most part, we’ve never been known for having the bad boys.”
Super Bowl champions may walk the streets here, but residents said they are treated with the same respect as normal town residents.
Players’ kids go to the same schools as other residents and residents are never starstruck, said Dawn Curran, 41, a manager at SweetWorks ice cream shop in town who has lived there for 15 years.
The relative quiet of the town has made the media circus in the last week seem “absolutely crazy” by comparison, she said, standing outside the shop Sunday.
“People are just tired of it,” she said. “They just want it gone.”
The news has triggered soul-searching for other Patriots fans who were drawn to the media circus outside Hernandez’s home.
Matthew McGee, 29, moved to Mansfield in 1993 and transformed into a diehard Patriots fan almost overnight. Since then he has gone to training camps every year and watched the team grow into a powerhouse dynasty on the backs of quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick.
Standing outside Hernandez’s home Saturday after as many as 20 law enforcement officers finished their search of the home, McGee said he will always love the Patriots’ organization. But he worried the Patriot’s reputation, along with the entire region’s, is at risk.
“I feel more embarrassed for the community,” he said.
“It’s just a shame,” said Philip Quinno, 23, also standing outside the house Saturday. “This is national news. People are going to remember North Attleborough for this.”
The two walked away as dozens of television news crews and reporters continued their live updates across from Hernandez’s house.