BELGRADE — Ben Ducharme arrived at Hammond Lumber at 1:30 Wednesday afternoon and waited patiently for more than two hours with his three sons — Brady, 9, and twins Owen and Evan, 7. Ducharme wore the No. 50 jersey of the guest of honor, New England Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich.
“I love how tough he plays,” Ducharme said of the 6-foot-2 Ninkovich. “He has a nose for the ball.”
Hundreds of Patriots fans hung out under tents set up at Hammond Lumber’s headquarters, ignoring steady rain to get an autograph and shake the hand of Ninkovich. The 2017 season will be Ninkovich’s 12th in the NFL and ninth with the Patriots. Ninkovich wore his Super Bowl XLIV championship ring. Big as a watch face, the ring covered half of Ninkovich’s finger. A few fans were allowed to try it on.
“It’s like a show and tell,” Ninkovich said as he took the massive ring back from a fan.
Ninkovich’s appearance at Hammond Lumber was made possible by a mutual friend he shares with Mike Hammond, the company’s owner.
“It kind of came together. It’s great to be here and be around the fans. I’ve never been up to Maine, so I figured it would be a good opportunity to come here,” Ninkovich said.
The Patriots get to work defending their Super Bowl title on Monday, when Ninkovich said the players report for offseason workouts. Since winning Super Bowl LI, 34-28, over the Atlanta Falcons in the biggest comeback in the game’s storied history, Ninkovich and his teammates have celebrated, knowing the shelf life of victory in the NFL is brief.
“You definitely celebrate the wins, especially the way we won that game, the incredible comeback. The euphoria you have after a game like that, and winning the Super Bowl is such a big accomplishment,” Ninkovich said. “It takes a lot of hard work just to get to that point. Once you get that win, it’s really just an unbelievable feeling. To have two, it’s really a great feeling.”
Shayne Reichard, of Waldoboro, and his father-in-law, Gary Gravel, noticed that during the Patriots’ victory parade in Boston, Ninkovich drank Grey Goose vodka, also their drink of choice. While many fans had footballs or the photos of Ninkovich provided by Hammond Lumber autographed, Reichard asked Ninkovich to sign a bottle of Grey Goose. Carefully cradling the signed bottle, Reichard said the Ninkovich-autographed bottle is a gift for Gravel, who is battling cancer.
“It will go in his man cave,” Reichard said.
Ninkovich pointed to a number of plays the Patriots made in the second half of the Super Bowl, including one he missed midway through the third quarter when Tevin Coleman beat Ninkovich in the flat for a touchdown to give the Falcons a 28-3 lead. The Patriots had to begin to show mental toughness, Ninkovich said, or else the Super Bowl was going to be an embarrassing loss.
“The play they scored on to make it 28-3, on me, I was like, ‘Jeez, this is insane.’ I was pissed off they even scored, but you have to give them credit. It was a good play they ran against us,” Ninkovich said. “We knew coming out of halftime we had to do something. We had to play better, or else we definitely were going to lose that game…. (Dante) Hightower’s (forced) fumble. Trey’s (Flowers) sack. If we don’t make those plays, we don’t win that game. Everything had to go perfectly. Definitely one of the most intense and situationally aware games I’ve ever been a part of. Bill (Belichick) preaches that all the time: The teams that are able to capitalize in the key situations of the game are going to come out victorious.”
Longtime Hammond Lumber salesman Paul Dodge asked Ninkovich to sign his wife, Katy’s, Native American drum. Dave Couture, of Waterville, and his son, Derek, 9, asked Ninkovich to sign a replica of his own jersey.
“It’s cool to come down here and see a Patriots player live,” Couture said, holding the jersey. “This will be a good little thing to put in the game room.”
That team that won Super Bowl LI will never be together on the field again. While Ninkovich said he pays some attention to the coming and goings of the offseason, it’s out of his control, so he doesn’t dwell on the team’s moves.
“That’s the one thing about playing so long. I’m so used to guys coming and going and change. I think from my first year here, there’s maybe only three guys, four guys, (still) on the team. You have to be prepared to move on with a different cast of characters,” Ninkovich said. “At the end of the day, it’s about working hard and going out there and playing together. It starts Monday, everyone coming together and working hard and building that chemistry you need to win in this league.”
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242