Fans brave heat to shed their No. 81 jerseys

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Hundreds of fans braved the heat to exchange their Aaron Hernandez jerseys at the Patriots’ pro shop at Gillette Stadium on Saturday. The team is allowing fans to trade in their Hernandez gear for other players’ jerseys after Hernandez recently was charged with murdering Odin Lloyd.

By Maureen MulleR
Special to USA TODAY Sports

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – On a sweltering Saturday meant more for the nearest swimming hole than for shopping, the Patriots ProShop at Gillette Stadium was doing brisk business.

By 11 a.m. Eastern time, more than 500 Aaron Hernandez jerseys had been exchanged, including 100 youth jerseys.

In a move without parallel, the Patriots were allowing fans to exchange the Nos. 81 and 85 jerseys of Hernandez, who now sits in the Bristol County House of Corrections, faced with murder and weapons charges.

By 11 a.m., of the 11 jerseys available for exchange, the most popular jerseys being taken in the swap were Vince Wilfork’s No. 75, quarterback Tom Brady’s No. 12 and defensive end Chandler Jones’ No. 95.

With the blistering heat and several hundred people in line, ProShop staff opened the store at 9:30 a.m., a half-hour ahead of the scheduled opening. The brisk business continued throughout the day, outpacing a normal summer Saturday, approaching nearly that early on a game day. The pace was expected to continue into Saturday night, with the New England Revolution hosting the San Jose Earthquakes in an MLS game at Gillette on Saturday night.

A tent stood outside the shop where patrons can bring in the shirts they wish to return and get a ticket, which can be exchanged inside the shop for another jersey.

Amanda Carriere and her 5-year-old son Antonio turned in the matching jerseys they received last year as gifts, taking home two new Wilfork jerseys.

“It’s a little bittersweet, but it’s good,” said Carriere, of Woonsocket, R.I.

“(Antonio) wasn’t going to understand why we had to get rid of his old jersey, and I didn’t really want to go into details. He’s too young for it. I just told him that it didn’t fit anymore. I didn’t want to go into specifics. He doesn’t know really what’s going on.”

Jen Robidoux was with her family, including her 11-year-old son Casey.

“We gave him the choice of what he’d like to do, and he wanted to exchange it,” Robidoux said. “He felt that it was the right thing to do, with everything that’s going on.”

Everything that’s going on is a lot for young fans to take in. Hernandez is accused in the June 17 execution-style murder of Odin Lloyd as additional accusations mount against the former Patriots tight end, who was cut by the team within hours of his June 26 arrest.

“Sort of shocked,” Casey Robidoux said of his reaction to the news about Hernandez, whom the youngster said was his favorite player. Casey got the jersey last year as a birthday present. Saturday, he was looking to replace it with a Rob Gronkowski shirt.

“I think they learn that these things happen,” Jen Robidoux said of her children. “I think they’re appreciative of the fact that he can come and get something that he’s going to be able to wear and wear proudly.”

Laurie Tantillo, of East Taunton, Mass., and her husband have been Patriots’ season-ticket holders for 20 years. She has seen much of the team’s recent glory years.

“So, when Hernandez first came, we were like, ‘Oh, this is going to be the next one.’ And not so much,” she said.

“I was very disappointed (by the news). It was such a shame. He’s a young guy with all this opportunity in the world, making crazy money, and that’s the way he goes about handling himself. It’s just a shame.”

She was pleased, though, by the Patriots’ decision to allow fans to exchange their jerseys.

“I think it was very impressive how the Kraft organization cut ties with him,” she said. “He is a talented ballplayer, regardless. But no matter what, we just can’t allow that here in New England. That behavior is unacceptable. I thought it sent a really good message to youth.

“We have a joke in my house: It’s called the curse of the jersey. Every jersey I buy, the person gets hurt or traded. This is the first time that they’ve been convicted of murder.”

© 2013 USA TODAY. All rights reserved.

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