FOXBOROUGH — Packed to capacity in the lower level on one side of Gillette Stadium on Sunday, Patriots fans watched replays from the AFC championship victory that put New England in the Super Bowl.
A few minutes later, those roughly 25,000 fans sent the players off in style.
Before a spirited crowd that filled approximately one-third of Gillette Stadium, the Patriots officially began their short journey to Indianapolis by attending a free send-off rally, addressing the fans and returning the appreciation that's been bestowed upon them.
"This never gets old, huh?" running back Kevin Faulk asked the raucous crowd. "The one question I was asked during the offseason was, 'Why are you coming back, Kevin?'
"This is it, right here."
Following the 13-minute program on a stage constructed at the 50-yard line, the players skirted the lower level of seats on their way out of the stadium, high-fiving fans and filming the celebration along the way before boarding busses bound for the airport.
New England will play the New York Giants next Sunday — a little more than four years after the Giants spoiled the Patriots' perfect season with a stunning 17-14 Super Bowl victory.
"We wish we could take all of you guys to Indy with us," said Tom Brady, who will tie the record for quarterbacks with his fifth Super Bowl start. "Hopefully we'll have a lot more people at our party next weekend."
After re-watching Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff's botched 32-yard field goal attempt in the closing seconds that gave New England a 23-20 win over the Ravens last Sunday, the fans erupted as players filed into the stadium to their traditional entrance music.
A parade of Patriots, including coach Bill Belichick, then made their way to the podium to thank fans for their support.