FOXBORO -- These days, Aaron Hernandez doesn't have much time to reflect on the fact that he's about to play in the Super Bowl for the team he rooted for growing up, but in the rare instances that he does, he's overcome with emotion.
"When I do get the chance to think about it, it brings tears to my eyes," Hernandez said Friday. "It's crazy. I always thought about playing in the NFL. I was a fan of the Patriots and Drew Bledsoe so just to be able to play and be on this team and actually contribute is an honor."
Growing up in Bristol, Conn. -- where enemy lines between Giants and Pats fans are often drawn between next door neighbors -- Hernandez was always around both New England and New York fans. He even says that, despite his own personal success in with the Patriots, there are still a few Giants fans in his family.
But the second-year tight end has been a Patriots fan for as long as he can remember. He was seven years old for Super Bowl XXXI when the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl behind Bledsoe but lost to the Packers.
"I was a fan of the Patriots because the first jersey I had was Bledsoe," Hernandez said.
He was just a freshman at the University of Florida when the Patriots lost Super Bowl XLII to the Giants. Now, after putting together a breakout season -- 79 catches for 910 yards and 7 touchdowns -- he's looking forward to helping the team he once cheered as a fan to come away with a different result.
"It's what you live for," Hernandez said. "You want to be that person making plays in a big game, or being on the field starting and being able to contribute. When you get the opportunity to contribute in a game like this, you got no choice but to show up."
Like Hernandez, safety James Ihedigbo and defensive lineman Ron Brace also grew up watching Super Bowls in New England, rooting for the Pats.
Brace is from Springfield and was a senior at Worcester Burncoat high school when the Patriots won Super Bowl XXVIII over the Panthers.
Ihedigbo grew up in Amherst, Mass., then went to UMass Amherst, where he spent Super Bowl Sundays at The Hanger Bar and Grill with friends and orders of chicken wings.
"We literally would watch and say 'Wow!' in amazement at the intensity of the game and what's at stake and wondering how those guys play under such pressure," Ihedigbo said. "Now we're on the other side of it."
Ihedigbo's friends at The Hanger will have a chance to see their hometown hero play on the game's biggest stage next week in Indianapolis.
"It's awesome," Ihedigbo said. "It's definitely a great great feeling, knowing that I grew up in Massachusetts and now I'm playing for the team that I watched for so many years. It's a surreal feeling and I'm definitely blessed to be part of it."