FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It was a much-anticipated moment of celebration that felt like a catharsis for New England Patriots fans Thursday night.

After an offseason dominated by cheating allegations and the threatened suspension of quarterback Tom Brady, the throng at Gillette Stadium got to welcome back its heroes, and finally hail a fourth world championship in a rousing ceremony before the season-opening game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Dropkick Murphys, a local punk rock institution, got things started with “The Boys Are Back” and “Shipping Up to Boston.” Hip-hop star T-Pain followed with “All I Do is Win.” The crowd’s fervor grew with each song.

Finally it was time to bring out the Lombardi Trophies, each carried by a former Patriot star – Ty Law, Troy Brown and Willie McGinest. The most recent one, earned in February when the Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks 28-24, was brought out by the team owner, Robert Kraft. Then the championship banner was unveiled in the south end zone as the crowd roared its loudest, fireworks shot into the sky and the Patriots came racing out of the tunnel – led by Brady, his four-game suspension overturned a mere week ago by a federal judge.

It was the most elaborate championship ceremony yet for the Patriots. And it felt more like group therapy for the 70,000 New England fans assembled.

RYAN WENDELL was the big surprise on the Patriots’ inactive list. The veteran offensive lineman was expected to start at center after Bryan Stork was placed on short-term injured reserve earlier this week. Stork, a second-year player who solidified the offensive line at center as a rookie last year, is recovering from a concussion. He cannot practice for six weeks and cannot return to a game until the ninth week.

Wendell, who missed most of the preseason with an injury, played some in the final preseason game at center. He wasn’t listed on the team’s injury report this week, so it was expected he would be the starting center.

With Wendell out, rookie David Andrews, an undrafted free agent out of Georgia, got the start at center, where he played most of the preseason. Third-year pro Josh Kline was at left guard with rookie Tre’ Jackson (Florida State) at right guard. Veterans Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer started at the tackles, Solder on the left.

Other inactive Patriots included cornerback Justin Colman, safety Tavon Wilson (quad), running back Travaris Cadet (hamstring), linebacker Rufus Johnson, and defensive linemen Khyri Thornton and Trey Flowers.

THIS IS the third time the Patriots have played in the NFL’s prime-time Thursday opener since the league started doing it in 2002.

New England beat the Indianapolis Colts 27-24 to open the 2004 season, as Tom Brady threw for 335 yards and three touchdowns.

Then the Patriots beat the Oakland Raiders 30-20 to open the 2005 season as Brady threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns.

Pittsburgh is also making its third appearance in this prime-time opener, which has featured the defending Super Bowl champion since 2004.

The Steelers opened the 2006 season with a 28-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins as Charlie Batch threw for three touchdowns and Willie Parker rushed for 115 yards.

Pittsburgh opened the 2009 season with a 13-10 overtime win over Tennessee on Jeff Reed’s 33-yard field goal.

Overall the home team is 11-2 in these Thursday night season openers with the New York Giants responsible for the two losses (16-13 to San Francisco in 2002 and 24-17 to Dallas in 2012).

THE PATRIOTS and Steelers have two of the top three regular-season records over the last decade. The Patriots are tops at 122-38 (.763 winning percentage) from 2005-14 while the Steelers are third at 101-59 (.631). Indianapolis is second at 110-50 (.688).

TOM BRADY entered the game with the best record in season openers among quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era. Brady is 11-2 in openers, the losses coming in 2003 (31-0 at Buffalo) and 2014 (33-20 at Miami).

This is New England’s first season opener at home since 2010 when the Patriots beat Cincinnati 38-24. Brady is 6-0 when the Patriots open the season at home, not counting the 17-10 win over Kansas City in 2008 when he was injured in the first quarter and missed the rest of the season.

NEW ENGLAND’S honorary captain for the game was Boston Police officer John Moynihan, who was shot in the face at point-blank range March 27 by a convicted felon during a motor vehicle stop. Kraft visited Moynihan in a Boston hospital while the gang unit officer and former U.S. Army Ranger was recovering from several surgeries, and invited him to be the honorary captain.