A look back at Patriots' banner night season-openers
The Patriots will raise their sixth Super Bowl championship banner on Sunday night - a feat that seemed unfathomable in the first 25 years of the franchise.
One of the spoils of those victories is hosting a nationally televised, primetime opener the following season. It'll happen again Sunday and mark the third time the Steelers - the only other franchise to win six Super Bowls - will have to watch a banner-raising in Foxboro.
With the NFL bowing to its longest traditional rivalry to open its 100th season on Thursday night when the Chicago Bears hosted the Green Bay Packers, the Pats-Steelers opener will get the "Sunday Night Football" spot on NBC.
The last time they hosted a banner night at Gillette Stadium, in the 2017 opener, the Patriots had some of their all-time greats from their Super Bowl winners - Matt Light, Deion Lewis, Kevin Faulk, and an active player in Julian Edelman, who was injured - appear on the field each carrying a Lombardi Trophy, to assist team owner Robert Kraft in the unveiling. Expect more of the same on Sunday night. Fans are requested to be in their seats by 8 p.m. for the ceremony.
How have the defending champs fared on banner night? Let's take a look back...
SEPT. 9, 2002: PATRIOTS 30, STEELERS 14
The Patriots first time hoisting a Super Bowl banner came when they christened their new, $325 million stadium built next to the old one. The Snow Bowl win over the Raiders the previous January in a divisional playoff game en route to their first title marked their Foxboro Stadium finale. The Gillette Stadium opener was a Monday night game against the Steelers, who had lost in the AFC Championship Game to New England in Pittsburgh the previous winter.
As for the game, Tom Brady, firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback with Drew Bledsoe traded to Buffalo, connected with tight end Christian Fauria for the first Gillette touchdown and a 17-point third quarter turned a 10-7 halftime lead into a 27-7 advantage as Brady (29-for-43, 294 yards, 3 TDs, no INT) outdueled Kordell Stewart (24-for-37, 242, 1 TD, 3 INTs) and the Pats got their new home and their new season off to a great start. The rest of the regular season - a 9-7 finish and no playoffs - was a different story.
SEPT. 9, 2004: PATRIOTS 27, COLTS 24
With Elton John performing a pregame concert for the Thursday night opener, the Patriots raised their second championship banner. They had earned it after winning Super Bowl 38 and they opened by hosting the team they had beaten in the AFC Championship at Gillette to get there, the Indianapolis Colts. In that title game, Peyton Manning had been picked off four times - three by Hall of Fame cornerback Ty Law.
This time, Manning had a better night (16-for-29, 2 TDs, 1 INT) until Vince Wilfork recovered an Edgerrin James fumble at the goal line with 3:51 left, soon followed by a Willie McGinest sack for a 12-yard loss as Indy was driving for what would've been the winning TD or tying field goal with 49 seconds remaining. That left kicker Mike Vanderjagt with a 48-yard attempt to tie it. The guy Manning had famously described as "our idiot kicker" missed and the Pats had another successful banner night on their way to a 14-2 season and repeating as Super Bowl champions.
SEPT. 8, 2005: PATRIOTS 30, RAIDERS 20
As they celebrated their third championship in four years, the Patriots welcomed the Oakland Raiders, making their first visit to Foxboro since the infamous "Tuck Rule" incident in the Snow Bowl playoff game, to Gillette for a Thursday night opener. The Raiders briefly took a 14-10 first-half lead on a 73-yard TD catch by future Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss.
Brady threw for 306 yards, including TD passes to Deion Branch and Tim Dwight, and two second-half Corey Dillon TD runs - one set up by another Wilfork fumble recovery - led New England to another opening night win at Gillette. They would go on to finish 10-6 and lose in the divisional round of the playoffs to the Broncos in Denver.
SEPT 10, 2015: PATRIOTS 28, STEELERS 21
It was again the Steelers as the Thursday night opener opponent but it had been 10 years between banners for the Pats. New England celebrated its thrilling Super Bowl 49 win over the Seattle Seahawks that had the specter of the Deflategate controversy hanging over it. Deflategate still raged heading into the opener as that summer, Judge Richard Berman had (temporarily, as we all know now) overturned Brady's NFL-imposed four-game suspension, allowing him to take the field for the opener and throw four TD passes - three to Rob Gronkowski - to help the Pats improve to 4-0 on banner nights.
It began a 12-4 season that would end with a loss in the AFC Championship Game to Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Denver.
The other notable moment from this one? Steelers coach Mike Tomlin left wondering why he was hearing the Patriots radio broadcast in his headset - instead of listening to his coaches - in the game. Headsetgate lives on today as the Steelers prepare for another Gillette opener with Tomlin telling reporters he's not worried about his team's on-field communications this time around.
SEPT. 7, 2017: CHIEFS 42, PATRIOTS 27
Banner No. 5 celebrated the championship clinched by the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history - the Patriots overcoming a 28-3 deficit against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51. In the Thursday night opener against Kansas City, the pregame ceremony turned out the be the best part of the night.
The first loss on banner night was a game of firsts that New England would like to forget:
- The Chiefs' Alex Smith became the first QB to throw for 300-plus yards, four TDs and no interceptions against a Bill Belichick team;
- The 42 points were the most given up by the Pats in the Belichick Era;
- It marked the first time in 82 games at Gillette that New England lost when leading at halftime (17-14).
"We had it handed to us on our own field," said Brady, who struggled in his first game as a 40-year-old (16-for-36, 267 yards, 0 TDs). The Patriots would rebound to go 13-3 only to have their drive for back-to-back titles derailed by the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 52.