FOXBORO, Mass. Robert Kraft clutched the Vince Lombardi Trophy as he stepped off the bus into the cold night and the warm welcome of thousands of fans.
"These fans are just unbelievable," the owner of the New England Patriots said Monday night above the shouting of the crowd. "We saw it all year and here they are tonight. And we kept 'em up late last night."
And on the very edge of their seats.
New England won its second Super Bowl in three years, beating Carolina 32-29 on Adam Vinatieri's 41-yard field goal with 4 seconds left. Vinatieri returned home earlier and was not on one of the five buses that, with a police escort, made the 30-mile trip from Logan Airport in Boston to Gillette Stadium.
But one of his biggest fans was still excited.
"It was like the longest game ever because it was so intense," said Jayme Clayman, 11, of Stoughton. She stood in the front row, pressed against a metal fence by a crowd at least eight rows deep. She held a sign, shaped like a football helmet, with the words, "Adam is my MVP."
Even when he missed his first two field goal attempts Sunday?
"Yeah," she said. "I knew they were going to win."
As the flashing lights of 11 state police motorcycles came into view at the entrance to the stadium parking lot about 500 yards away, the crowd grew louder.
"They're here! They're here!" fans shouted.
More fans will celebrate on Tuesday during a victory parade through the streets of Boston. Quarterback Tom Brady, who went to Disney World on Monday rather than return home with his teammates, is expected there.
But the fans who waited Monday, many of whom arrived hours before the team arrived, were there after the sun went down to get autographs and exchange high-fives with players. Coach Bill Belichick waved his Super Bowl hat to the crowd.
Some fans recorded the action with video cameras. So did some players.
"We couldn't have done it without all these crazy people," said offensive tackle Matt Light, who got off the bus wearing a bathrobe with the logos of the Patriots and the Super Bowl.
Nor could they have done it without Brady, who kept bringing the Patriots back in the fourth quarter, or Vinatieri, whose kick finally ended Carolina's championship hopes.
"I don't think anyone understood how good Carolina was, but they learned last night," Kraft said. "They were similar to the way we were two years ago."
The Patriots were underdogs then but beat St. Louis 20-17 on Vinatieri's field goal on the last play. On Sunday, the Patriots were favored and came in with a 14-game winning streak.
"It feels great, man," defensive end Bobby Hamilton said. "Two times out of three years, that ain't bad. Fans coming out and seeing all the players out here, showing us much love."
That's nothing new for Patriots players, who overcame numerous key injuries and a 2-2 start to give their fans something special the best season in team history.
"I'm used to it now because this is the way they've been the whole year," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "They've been supporting us ever since I've been here for eight years, so this is what you expect when you bring a championship to New England."
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