By Nicki Jhabvala
Pro Football Writers of America
MINNEAPOLIS -- Shortly before 11 a.m. Saturday, a loud voice blared from the speakers inside U.S. Bank Stadium.
The bowl will be closed until noon, the voice told a stadium filled with event staff and security.
Minutes later, Patriots players donning their white jerseys and blue plants, and coaches dressed in all navy sauntered out of the tunnel and onto the field, heading toward the south end where a tower of bleachers awaited them at the 10-yard line.
After three days of practices at the Vikings’ Winter Park facility, Saturday for the Patriots was photo and fun day, a time to gather with family, pose for a group shot and mingle after as Super Bowl LII neared. No practice was scheduled. No walkthrough, either.
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"The families go through so much. They sacrifice so much for all of us and the time that we spend away and the strain that a season puts on them," coach Bill Belichick said. "So it's great to have them all here and it's great to give them an opportunity to be with their sons, daughters, husbands and to bring their family in and take pictures on the field and just kind of enjoy the day.
“It's a nice event for everybody -- the players and families, and the team picture with the kids. Everybody will look back on this."
Planted in the middle of the Eagles' end zone was a ladder and camera screen.
One by one, the players and coaches, as well as team president Jonathan Kraft and chairman/CEO Robert Kraft, filtered onto the bleachers, awaiting direction from the photographer standing on the ladder.
"One. Two. Three," the photographer yelled from his perch.
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The Patriots' logo flashed on the far big screen and, just like that, the team's Super Bowl LII trip was documented.
After a few extra snaps -- just in case -- Patriots staffers called for the players' children and spouses, who had been sitting in the stands above the opposite end zone.
The children, most wearing their fathers’ jerseys, scattered in front of the bleachers. Receiver Chris Hogan, standing front and center just below Robert Kraft, cradled his young twins, one in each arm, and cornerback Stephon Gilmore did the same with two kids.
Then all looked ahead at the camera and smiled for the family photo.
A final, "Thank you very much!" from the photographer was their signal to disperse and for the team's remaining time inside U.S. Bank Stadium, they gathered to soak in the moment, reflect on the journey and take a few family selfies.
An hour later, the same voice that closed the stadium bowl ushered the Patriots players to the buses.
"This afternoon is a normal Saturday for us,” Belichick said. “So it would either be traveling if we were on the road, or if we were home the players would have the afternoon off to relax, get a massage, just catch up on whatever. Then we meet tonight and play tomorrow. We're on as much of a normal routine as we can be on."
Back to football.