FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Former teammates, family members and fans were among the throng that traveled to Gillette Stadium Saturday to watch the University of Maine football team take on Massachusetts.
The Black Bears competed on a big stage, the home of the NFL’s New England Patriots, and came away with a 24-14 victory against their traditional rivals — who last year moved up to the Bowl Championship Subdivision as a member of the Mid-American Conference.
The game, the setting and the location proved the perfect place for UMaine supporters to get together on a bright, sunny afternoon. An estimated 1,200 Black Bear fans cheered on the team among an announced crowd Saturday of 15,624.
The UMaine alumni tailgating lot was swarming with fans of all ages and the throng was treated to a pregame performance by the UMaine marching band.
It was very much a reunion for many in attendance.
Denny Doyle was at the forefront of bringing together 30 players from UMaine’s 1965 Tangerine Bowl squad. He was pleased with the excellent turnout.
“With their families, grandkids, all of that, we have about 50 people,” Doyle said. “We want to root the team on against UMass, one of our big rivals when we played.”
Doyle, an Auburn native who now lives in Massachusetts, explained that former teammates came to the 48th Tangerine Bowl reunion from as far away as California. They had originally planned to wait until the 50th anniversary.
“This is such a great venue for football, we thought we would want to get everybody here,” Doyle said.
The game also was the rallying point for a sizeable group of more recent former players.
Former quarterback Jake Eaton, who directed UMaine to back-to-back Atlantic 10 championships in 2001 and 2002, was happy to reunite with many of his college buddies.
“We try to get to one about once a year,” said Eaton, who was sporting American flag sunglasses and a red Patriots hat. “We’ve got about 20 guys here from anywhere from 1999 to 2004.”
Though the group usually tries to make it to Orono each fall, the game at Foxborough served as a convenient location for the players, who are spread across the northeast, and beyond.
Eaton, who made a three-hour drive from his home in Vermont, said there is a lasting bond between the former teammates, one that was formed at UMaine.
“I think that’s why we were so good when we were at Maine, we were all so close,” he said. “There was a lot of camaraderie there.”
Jim Baines of Hampden is a big UMaine sports fan, but he had another special reason to make the trip. He was there to watch his older son Jay perform as a percussionist with the marching band.
He was accompanied by Charlie Farley of Hampden, who had never been to Gillette.
“It’s like a city just by itself,” Farley said.
Jim Walsh, a school administrator in Saco, is no stranger to Gillette Stadium as he is a Patriots season-ticket holder. He also happens to be a former UMaine football player (Class of 1973).
UMaine football games like the one Saturday provide Walsh and his friends with the opportunity to reconnect and have some fun. There were three couples in their group.
“We come down, tailgate, hopefully see a good game and then we’re all going separate directions on the way back up,” said Walsh, who is friends with Bears head coach Jack Cosgrove.
“A whole pool of people that I played with are here, Greater Boston guys. I grew up in Reading,” he explained.
Walsh said he is a supporter of football and attends as many games as possible, but he and his crew also venture to Boston to watch UMaine hockey games.
“I’m a supporter of the program. I’m a loyal alumnus. I try to attend a lot of games,” he said.
UMaine athletics benefactors Philip and Susan Morse made a special trip up to Foxborough. The 1964 UMaine graduates provided $1.5 million for the initial restructuring of Morse Field at Alfond Stadium in 1998 and donated $1 million toward new turf in 2009.
The Morses took a break from a golf tournament in Virginia to take in the game and did so in the Boston Red Sox suite. Morse is an owner and vice chairman of the Fenway Sports Group, parent company of the Red Sox.
“We have 40 friends coming,” said Susan Morse, who was UMaine’s homecoming queen, alongside king Skip Chappelle of Old Town, while at school.
Philip Morse said the contingent included some of his UMaine fraternity brothers. He admitted he hasn’t flipped the switch to football quite yet.
“I haven’t got into it because I’m so heavy into baseball with the Red Sox,” he said.
Auburn mayor Jonathan LaBonte also was at the game, representing Lewiston-Auburn with a well-equipped green Jeep that included a flat-screen TV. He also was flying flags of the Fleur de Lys and, apparently, his favorite beer.
UMaine safety Khari Al-Mateen said the support of the fans was greatly appreciated.
“That wa a big thing for us. They helped push us forward,” he said.
Cosgrove admitted he was too focused in on the game to be able to pay much attention to the fans during the game.
“I recognized that there were people here and that was exciting,” he said.
And he knows his family was well represented.
“There’s a lot of Irish out in the parking lot and they’re having a hell of a time,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story identified Jonathan LaBonte as mayor of Lewiston. He is mayor of Auburn.