Great Gillette Moments: Raising the first banner


There's a lot to celebrate in this Patriots season, but one of the lower-key milestones is the 15th anniversary of Gillette Stadium's opening. While it's not the most prolific celebration, it's still worth looking back. Each week, PatriotsLife will take a look at some of the best moments in Gillette's history as host of the golden era of Patriots football.

These days, banner raisings almost seem like old hat for the Patriots. They'll be raising their fifth banner before tonight's season opener against Kansas City, and it's expected they'll hoist a new one every year.

Times were quite different in the year 2002. Americans across the country were still reeling from the effects of the 9/11 attacks, sequels for Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Austin Powers and Star Wars dominated the box office, and The Transplants introduced a unique sound to show us that it's a wicked world we live in. In the world of football, the Patriots were set to open the brand-new Gillette Stadium, providing a much-necessary upgrade from Foxboro Stadium. For the first time in history, the Patriots got to unveil a championship banner, and opened their shiny new stadium in epic fashion.

The game, of course, was big as well. The Pats faced off against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who they topped in the previous January's AFC title game on the road by a dramatic 24-17 margin despite coming close to losing a 21-3 lead in the third quarter.

Under the Monday Night Football lights, the Patriots unveiled their first banner and cruised to a 30-14 win against the Steelers. Former President George H.W. Bush served as honorary captain, and performed the opening coin toss.  A new era of Patriots football was in its infancy, though nobody knew at the time of the unprecedented success that was to come.

That win helped New England start the 2002 campaign at a steady 3-0, and finished the season at 9-7, in a three-way tie with the Jets and Dolphins. Ultimately, the Pats were kept out of the playoffs as the Jets claimed the tiebreaker, so Gillette would need to wait another year before hosting a playoff game. Strangely, though, the Browns made it that year -- a world where the Browns make the playoffs and the Patriots don't can only belong to the strangeness that was the early-2000s.

Since the NFL-AFL merger, no other team has opened a new stadium immediately after winning a Super Bowl. Twenty-one stadiums -- including Gillette -- have opened since 1997, but the Pats were the only team to prove that the best way to open a new barn is to hoist a championship banner.

Follow Rob Riches on Twitter @Riches61