The Patriots introductions before the team faced the Jets on Dec. 24 were like any other. The songs were the same. The cheering from the Gillette Stadium crowd was as loud as ever.
But for one 10-year-old, the day was anything but ordinary.
As Tom Brady led his team from the locker room, he ran by Liam Fitzgerald on his way through the tunnel and stuck his hand out. Though it was less of a fist bump and more of a high five, Liam graciously stuck his hand out to meet Tom's. Other Patriots players followed suit seconds later.
This scene is a familiar one in the world of Boston sports, just in a different setting. Instead of taking place on the Boston Bruins bench, Liam "Fist Bump Kid" Fitzgerald and his family took the motivational pregame ritual to Gillette Stadium for the first time.
It's been more than two years since Liam captured the hearts of Boston and sports fans across the country as a video of him fist bumping Bruins players as they left the ice went viral. The 10-year-old is diagnosed with Down syndrome and is a cancer survivor, beating leukemia in May of 2013. Since then, he and his family have been a staple in the Boston community, raising money and awareness for leukemia research, special needs and inclusion, according to Liam's mother Christine.
Liam was a special guest of Robert Kraft on Saturday for his first Patriots game, and Liam, a huge sports fan, was more than a little excited.
"We didn't tell him about it. We didn't tell him until that morning," Christine said. "First of all, I wanted it to be very special for him and I knew he'd be excited, but I also didn't want him to not sleep. He would be so focused on it."
As soon as Liam found out, he ran into his room, put on his Tom Brady jersey and was ready to go.
The Fitzgerald family met with Mr. Kraft and Jonathan Kraft before the game and before heading down to the tunnel outside of the Patriots locker room. Liam even offered up his arm for the team, if they needed him.
"I'm going in for Tom if he needs a break today!" Liam joked with Mr. Kraft.
Christine said that since Liam was an infant, people have been drawn in by his infectious smile. There's just something about him that draw people – even complete strangers – to him. With a giving nature, upbeat personality and an ever-positive attitude, it's no wonder Patriots players noticed Liam as they ran out to the field.
"I know from watching enough football that Tom is pretty much in the zone, and he doesn't break concentration or anything," Christine said. "So we're yelling and yelling as they're running by, and he saw Liam and came right over and touched the end of his hand. It was sort of this weird thing, realizing 'That's Tom Brady and you touched his hand.'"
After the game that saw the Patriots defeat the Jets handedly, the family left Gillette Stadium for a family Christmas party. Needless to say, Liam had a lot to talk about when they arrived.
"It was absolutely wonderful. We had an absolute blast," Christine said. "He was beaming from ear to ear. He couldn't wait to tell all of his cousins that night … We got there and he couldn't even wait to tell everybody"
Liam said that even though he didn't get a chance to talk to Tom, the day was one he would not forget any time soon.
"I was happy and super excited to be at the game," Liam said. "The tunnel was cool even though I couldn't talk to Tom. He touched my hand!"
Though the original "Fist Bump" video has given Liam fame and unique opportunities, he and his family are dedicated to using this unexpected platform to give back. This year he was honored by Massachusetts General Hospital for his philanthropic efforts, including raising more than $150,000 through #BumpOutCancer for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
"As a parent, of course it's thrilling to see him give Mr. Kraft a hug, give Jonathan [Kraft] a hug. He was super excited and super thankful and grateful that he was there," Christine said. "I always tell him, 'You know, you're one very lucky little boy. You've been through a lot in your life.' For 10-years-old, he has been through a ton. I said, 'You have to give back, as well. You need to be thankful and grateful.'"