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Patriots fans who sat through snow for Matthew Slater's final game express gratitude for legendary special teamer who 'set gold standard'

New England Patriots fans knew how much snow was forecasted for Foxborough in Week 18, but attended anyway to show support for longtime captain Matthew Slater.

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Fans knew about the snow forecasted for Foxborough in the days leading up to the New England Patriots final game of the season.

Tickets to that Week 18 matchup against the New York Jets weren't hard to come by, understandably, as almost a foot of snow was predicted to fall upon Gillette Stadium. But despite the team's 4-12 record entering the game, and the frigid windchill during it, a devoted portion of the fan base felt compelled to be in attendance.

It might have been their last chance to see Matthew Slater play – proving to be true as the longtime Patriots captain announced his retirement on Tuesday. Weather be damned.

"It was absolutely the deciding factor," said Patriots superfan Zac Ventola, who proudly held up a sign thanking Slater that chilly Sunday.

"While ticket prices were inexpensive, I highly doubt we would have gone to this game if it weren't for the possibility of it being the final game of his career. Speaking with Matthew so many times over the years – from being a toddler to a teenager – he always stood out as such an amazing person. While the weather was cold and miserable and the Patriots this past season had been, to put it lightly, underwhelming, I felt it was incredibly important for me to be in the stands cheering him on as a thank-you for everything he has done for myself, my family, and the Patriots. It being Slater's final game was not just a factor in us attending the game. It was truly the sole reason."

Ventola and his family weren't the only ones to brave 33-degree weather and 14-mile-per-hour winds that day.

Ever since the notorious "Tuck Rule" game, being present at Gillette Stadium for a snow game has been on Bryce Lavoie's bucket list. The gravity of Week 18 only added to that desire.

"I knew the last few pieces of the Patriots Dynasty I grew up on were on their last legs, and there had been talk that Slate was hanging up the cleats after this season," Lavoie said. "I would say that definitely was a factor for me and I am blessed to have witnessed his potential last game in that good ol' Patriots Navy Blue."

For both Lavoie and Ventola, the three-time Super Bowl champion has been a constant on a team that brought them so much joy. Slater's playing days were part of the era both young men grew up watching.

Even from the outside, his impact on those Patriots teams was undeniable.

"From as long as I could remember and understand the game of football, Slater was always out there hustling and busting his tail in all parts of the game," Lavoie said. "You'd always see No. 18 speeding down the field to either pop a returner or down a punt. It was magical to watch. He fit right in with the winning formula that lasted for almost two decades: Do Your Job."

By all accounts, Slater was much more than your standard special teamer. Even before it was announced that his 16-year run had come to an end, the former fifth-round draft and 10-time Pro Bowler cemented himself as one of the greatest to ever contribute to that phase of the game.

That reputation has earned him status as one of the most respected figures in the NFL.

"When I think of Matthew Slater, my mind immediately darts to him simply embodying the Patriot Way on and off the field," Ventola said.

Presenting some of the best images of Matthew Slater throughout his 16-year NFL career, all with the New England Patriots.

"His greatness always shined through, especially on those Super Bowl-winning teams. There aren't many players in this franchise's history who played a bigger role in the greatest dynasty in sports history, which is unfathomably impressive as a core specialist. He's the reason why the Patriots had one of the best special teams units in league history over 10 years. You could see the league-wide respect for him game-in and game-out. Players introducing themselves to him, coaches speaking so highly of him during press conferences. Everybody loves Matthew. I was lucky enough to see it first-hand at all of the Patriots events I have been to, the kindness he emits is truly unmatched. And that love for him becomes even more evident through how the team views him. You don't accidentally become a 13-time captain."

Ventola has a unique perspective.

The high schooler has never missed a Patriots training camp, becoming a familiar face for players ever since he was a toddler handing out pet rocks and handmade trading cards to his favorite Patriots.

Slater remembered him at every practice and event their paths would cross at, and always asked Ventola about his family and how school was going.

"That's what made Matthew so unique. He truly cared about everybody he interacted with because that's just the type of person he is," Ventola said.

"I remember in third grade we had an assignment to write about a friend from outside of school. I didn't know many people who from outside of my school, so who did I write about? Matthew Slater. In all honesty, I don't remember exactly what I wrote about him, but for him to have an impact on me that was so significant I was writing about it in the third grade says a lot."

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As the saying goes, your legacy is less about what you've said or done and more about how you make people feel.

Noted by Lavoie, Slater encompassed exactly what it meant to be a team player and leader. He made those around him better, on and off the field. His mentality radiated beyond the Patriots locker room, helping to uphold a culture of excellence on the field and in the community.

"I feel that Slater set a gold standard for how an NFL player should compose themselves on and off the field," Lavoie said. 

"He was a player of the people. He gave back to the community, interacted with fans pregame and postgame, and made it hard for anybody to root against him."

Slater made the fan base proud to support him and the Patriots – even in a blizzard.

That's why throughout the stands at Gillette Stadium for that final game, his name was written on countless posters around the bowl. As disappointing as last season was for many, being there was worth dealing with the snow.

"Matthew Slater, thank you for the incredible work and effort that you gave to the Patriots over the last 16 years," Lavoie said, when asked about what he would say to Slater if given the chance.

"You have inspired not only myself, but thousands of others over the years with your leadership, hustle, grit, and integrity as a player of the game. Words can only express so much of the appreciation I have for having watched you for my entire childhood and my early adulthood as well. You are one of the many reasons that the New England Patriots, and football as a whole, have been one of the biggest passions I have in life."

Ventola shares that sentiment.

His love for the Patriots inspired his dream of working in sports media one day. For all the words he wishes he could have fit on his sign, he settled for a simple "thank you" to encompass it all.

"Thank you for the work you have put in to help out the community," Ventola said.

"Thank you for being such an outstanding individual. Thank you for your excellence on the field, for helping the Patriots bring home three Lombardi Trophies during your career. And most of all, thank you for the kindness that you always treated me with. Nothing that you did for me ever went unnoticed. Thank you for always checking in, and always being willing to take a picture or sign an autograph. Thank you for making the team and sport that I love even greater. If this is the end of your playing career, I am excited to watch your next strides and see the continued greatness that has deservingly followed you throughout your career. I cannot wait to hopefully be in person watching you receive your red Patriots Hall of Fame jacket, and the gold one that is waiting for you in Canton. On and off the field, thank you for being one of the greatest to ever do it."

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