Patriots: 20 years later, Fauria reminisces about historic touchdown catch in Gillette Stadium opener

Photo – Jim Davis/Boston Globe

Twenty years ago to the day on Friday, the house that Belichick, Brady and Kraft built (yes, all three) officially opened.

September 9, 2002 was a historic night for the franchise as Gillette Stadium opened for the first time with a prime time matchup against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Patriots revealed the 2001 World Champions banner, a legendary duo had the call in the broadcast booth for ABC and tight end Christian Fauria became the answer to a pretty neat trivia question for eternity.

Who had the first touchdown ever inside Gillette Stadium? That would be Fauria.

Fauria only had two catches for 11 yards that night in the 30-14 win, but that first catch from four yards out early in the first quarter lives in infamy. In fact, Fauria still remembers the play call, sort of.

“It was Ride 36-something, Y Pop,” he said in a phone interview Friday evening. “All I needed to do was sell the run and slip out the back door and that was it. I remember, I actually didn’t think it was going to get called. Before that, there was a couple plays that always worked in practice and I was like ‘well, they’ll call that one first,’ and sure enough it didn’t work. So, then I was like “oh, ok, scratch that one off the list,’ then I was like ‘well the next one’s gotta be the pop pass,’ and sure as hell, there’s a couple different plays that went on and we just ended up being in the perfect situation to call it.

“Charlie Weiss did an excellent job with the timing, and the front was just what they said it was going to be. Brady gave the perfect fake and it was an easy (route) right to the flat and it was an easy throw and catch.”

At this point in time, the Patriots were the new toast of the town, bringing the first championship to the region since the 1986 Celtics. What else does Fauria remember most about that day?

Oddly enough, the stadium name change.

“The biggest thing is like, alright, brand new stadium, Patriots coming off their Super Bowl so there was this whole ceremony and that was a big deal. But, I think the weirdest thing is how the name had changed,” he said. “It was CMGI and next thing I know it’s Gillette.”

Obviously, there was more to that entire expierence though.

“It was loud, it was crazy, the first real game there,” Fauria added. “The celebration of the Super Bowl the year before was obviously a big deal too.”

Fauria laughed when asked if it feels like 20 years since that magical night at Gillette where he made history.

“I looked at (the clip) and just said ‘wow,'” said Fauria. “I’ll be 51 on September 22nd, so I mean, I was 31 years old, well, 30 really, but who’s counting? It’s crazy how young I was and how good I felt. I was like ‘man, I don’t know who that guy is,’ it’s amazing. The thing that stood out to me the most to be honest, when you listen to the replay and listen to the opening of that game, Al Michaels and John Madden start talking about a cinderella story, and then it’s ‘oh 300 million dollars to build a stadium,’ which is like a drop in the bucket compared to stadiums now.

“They spent 325…you couldn’t get a concourse for that today. You couldn’t get a scoreboard for that now-a-days, it’s amazing.”

That year, the Patriots missed the playoffs, but didn’t know it until after the final game of the season. Fauria also recalled what that final game and the scene in the locker room was like.

“We ended 9-7, we had a tough couple weeks where we couldn’t really figure anything out,” he said. “We ended strong, and I remember we ended at home against the Dolphins. We were down, we came back and tied it up – I actually caught a two-point conversion to force overtime – and we came back and won it.

“We all went into the locker room thinking we were going to the playoffs. We were relying on the Jets/Green Bay game, but we knew before halftime of that game who we needed to win wasn’t;t going to win, so we all kind of collectively decided we should pack our bags, we’re done.”

The 2002 season may not have ended the way Fauria and the Patriots wanted it to, but the first game and touchdown inside Gillette Stadium is a memory the former tight end can continue carrying with him for a lifetime.