On a night when the NFL world was focused on the first-round of the draft, the Patriots began by honoring first-responders from the Boston Marathon bombings.
About 30 members of the Boston Police Department, including a couple of civilian employees, were given a private, behind-the-scenes tour of Gillette Stadium on one of the most exciting nights of the NFL year.
Fully decked out in their dark blue uniforms, the officers went inside the Patriots locker room, where the heroes of last week's horrific events in the Boston area couldn't help but snap dozens of photos of themselves in front of the locker spaces of their sports heroes.
The group then went inside the team's weight room, cafeteria, scouting department and coaches offices, and – a rare treat for anyone not in the immediate football staff – a peak inside the Patriots draft "war room." Director of player personnel Nick Caserio paid them a quick visit to thank them for their valiant efforts in the immediate aftermath of the twin bombings and in taking down the suspects a few days later, when almost all of Boston and its surrounding suburbs were shut down last Friday.
After that, it was a visit to owner Robert Kraft's office for a meeting with him and the team's three Super Bowl trophies. But the real treat for the officers came when Kraft introduced them to the hundreds of Patriots fans gathered for the first-round draft party at the stadium. Fans gave the police a standing ovation and shouts of "Thank you!" before the Patriots cheerleaders presented each police officer and staffer with their own Patriots jersey.
The number on the jersey? One. On the nameplate, "Boston." Not a coincidence, of course, as the official charitable fund for the victims of the attacks is called "One Fund Boston."
The Kraft family had pledged to donate $100,000 to the fund, but once that announcement was made public, several more donations of various sizes came flooding into the Patriots offices. The number quickly swelled to over $600,000.
As a result, Kraft told the crowd Thursday night that the Patriots-related donations would total a symbolic $617,000 – to match the capital city's area code 617.
"Today was very humbling," superintendent-in-chief Dan Linskey said following the evening's emotional introduction. "One of the things we're focused on now is the healing process… our soul was ripped out that day. Our hearts were ripped out. We suffered. The city suffered. We need to get ourselves back together and keep Boston safe.
"The support of Mr. Kraft and the organization is phenomenal. Then to have the crowd stand up and cheer us… it was crucial to beginning the healing process. Our sports teams are so strong and so vibrant. It's just so humbling and overwhelming for me to represent the finest team in the entire United States. I want to thank [Mr. Kraft] for allowing us to shine here tonight."
If anyone deserved thanks Thursday night, it was Linskey and his fellow Boston Police comrades.