The Patriots thanked health care workers from across New England Sunday morning at an airport sendoff for 76 frontline employees who boarded the team's plane and flew to watch Tom Brady play in Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Florida.
Patriots President Jonathan Kraft was joined by team captain Matthew Slater and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker at Logan International Airport in Boston for a short event held before the plane took off around 10:00 a.m.
Baker recalled how the last time he was at the airport hangar, it was last year, during the pandemic's first surge in the United States. Patriots owner Robert Kraft had offered up the plane's services to help fly much-needed personal protective equipment he'd purchased from China to Massachusetts.
"I’m thrilled to be back here today because today the Kraft family and the Patriots and the NFL are saying thank you to so many of our health care workers who have carried a tremendous burden of servicing, taking care of and saving the lives of so many people during this pandemic," Baker said.
The governor also said health care workers embody what many in New England know as the "Patriot Way."
"And honestly when you think about some of those great Patriots slogans -- 'do your job,' 'no days off' -- there's probably no group over the course of this pandemic who's demonstrated that more than day after day after day than our health care workers," Baker said. "And I'm thrilled to be here today to be able to say thank you to all of them for what they’ve done and who they’ve represented and how they’ve represented the commonwealth here in Massachusetts."
Jonathan Kraft also recalled how the Patriots were able to assist Baker in delivering much-needed PPE to the state last year, and he used his platform Sunday to encourage everyone to get the coronavirus vaccine -- something each of the 76 health care workers headed to the Super Bowl had already done.
"To be standing here today to see these 76 health care workers who represent all the health care workers across New England who not only served us courageously but have shown the leadership to take the vaccine, we would just encourage everybody, when it's your turn, take the shot. Get vaccinated," he said.
Jonathan Kraft thanked all of New England's health care workers on behalf of the Kraft family and the Patriots organization.
"Thank you for your bravery, your selflessness. We are eternally and infinitely grateful to you," he concluded, before passing the microphone over to Slater, the "heart and soul" of the Patriots team.
Slater applauded the frontline workers, saying, "Thank you guys so much for everything you’ve been through these last 12 months or so."
The special teams star recalled what a struggle the past year has been for everyone -- emotionally, physically and financially, he said.
While Slater cited the strain it has been on everyone, he said we have also seen the best in people during these hard times.
"I think during that time as we've experienced a wide range of emotions, we've seen the best in people. We've seen people come together. We've seen people be selfless and we've seen people service and sacrifice," he said. "And I know for certain that without you folks we wouldn’t be standing here. You guys have thought about others first. You’ve put I'm sure fear and anxiety to the side. You’ve gone in and continued to serve. And I know there have probably been stressful moments."
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Slater said his wife is in health care and he has heard over the course of the pandemic of people not wanting to go home, unsure if they could change their clothes inside so leaving their clothes at the door, or maybe sleeping in a hotel at times.
"That’s a sacrifice that none of us take lightly, so again I can't say it enough, what you people represent is the best of us and we certainly appreciate that," Slater said. "That’s something that I know for me personally I'll take with me for the rest of my life, is to see the selflessness that has been on display from so many of you over the last 12 months and it's inspiring to me and it reminds me that we are better together when we're working as one, when we're serving one another."
Slater said he hopes Sunday is an opportunity for the health care workers to reflect, to be thankful and to enjoy one another. He also joked he hopes it's a chance for them to get some warm weather in.
"Cause we’re not getting a lot of it here" in New England, Slater said, laughing.
"Thank you again so much for all you’ve done the past 12 months, for all you’ve given, for allowing us to continue to move on and press forward, so god bless you as you continue to do what you do," he concluded.
Some of the health care workers were boarding the plane as Baker, Jonathan Kraft and Slater were speaking.
Along with the flight to Tampa Bay and Super Bowl tickets, the health care workers will get a police escort from Gillette Stadium to the airport, a two-night hotel stay, a gift bag, spending money and more.
The Patriots posted a photo to Twitter Sunday morning showing the workers standing on the field at Gillette Stadium, alongside Pat the Patriot.
The Patriots announced the move Tuesday, five days ahead of the game that pits the team's greatest-ever player, Tom Brady, and his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, against Patrick Mahomes and the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs.
As a gesture of gratitude for their hard work through the coronavirus pandemic, Robert Kraft invited the health care workers from New England to fly to the Super Bowl with him as his guests.
The health care workers learned over a video call Monday that they would be flying with Kraft and his family on the team plane for the all-expenses paid trip Sunday.
The Patriots said in a statement that the goal of the trip was both to thank health care workers for their selfless work caring for people during the pandemic while also drawing attention to the importance of vaccines.
Kraft said in the statement that "it's an honor for us to celebrate these healthcare workers by giving them a well-deserved break for a day and an opportunity to enjoy the Super Bowl, a reality that is only made possible because of the vaccines. We hope that in doing so, others are also encouraged to get vaccinated as they are able."
The health care workers come from a variety of roles, according to the team. The governors of New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut each selected four of them, while the remaining 56 were picked from Massachusetts hospitals.
The NFL said it would dedicate about 7,500 total tickets to health care workers — a little more than one-third of the total attendance for the game.