CLIFTON, Maine — On April 11, 2002, Chris and Tina Fickett, their son Tom, and family friend Linny Mann were among 4,000 jubilant fans at Bass Park in Bangor to celebrate the then-upstart Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
Players Adam Vinatieri, Lawyer Milloy and Bobby Hamilton, along with team owner Robert Kraft, made the trip to Bangor with the championship trophy.
The Ficketts, standing along the racetrack’s chain-link fence, made the front page of the Bangor Daily News. Five-year-old Tom, a tousled towhead in his dad’s arms, was clutching one of six footballs autographed by the three players and given out to fans.
“The captains of the Bangor High football team had six footballs signed and handed them out in the crowd,” Mann recalled.
Fifteen years later the Ficketts, avid New England fans, are excited to again entertain family and friends at their Clifton home to watch the Patriots play the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl this Sunday.
This time, there will be a huge void at the gathering on Fickett Hill Road.
Last Aug. 16, Harold “Thomas” Fickett III died when the pickup truck in which he was a passenger crashed on Route 9 in Unity. He was 19.
“He was a good kid — he really was,” Chris Fickett Sr. said. “I call him a kid. He was my son. This kid was special.”
In preparation for Sunday’s game, Chris Fickett began making plans to include the ball, Tom’s football jersey from John Bapst High School and the urn containing his cremains as part of a small memorial display.
One important thing is missing, though: that autographed Patriots football. The Ficketts’ presume it was stolen by someone who had access to the home while they were on vacation.
And all they want for Sunday is the ball back.
Mann, who works with Chris Fickett at Fickett Mountain Farm in Clifton, shared the story with the BDN, in the hope of getting the souvenir back for the family.
“The family had set up a lengthy Christmas vacation and had gone to Key West (Florida) for three weeks,” Mann said.
“I figured with the Patriots back in the Super Bowl, if we could get something out before the game, there might be added pressure for whoever has the ball,” Mann said.
Fickett theorizes the football was likely sold. “It’s very upsetting. His mom is distraught over it,” said Fickett, who is offering a $1,000 reward, no questions asked, for the return of the football.
“Getting someone to step forward would be very special, and we would really love to have it back,” he said.
Tom Fickett’s death has been understandably emotional for the family, which includes Chris Jr., a senior at Ellsworth High School.
Both Fickett boys played football and baseball, and Tom Fickett left a lasting impression with his former John Bapst football coach, Dan O’Connell.
“When he came to us as a ninth-grader, he was a frail, wannabe quarterback. He was a Rudy (Ruettiger)-style kid,” O’Connell said, referring to the undersized Notre Dame legend.
After getting beat out for the quarterback job, Fickett found his niche as a defensive back and as a wide receiver for the Crusaders. What he lacked in size or athletic ability, he made up for with hard work, intensity and perseverance.
“He worked his rear end off and did everything you asked him,” O’Connell, who pointed out Fickett’s fun-loving demeanor, said.
“Tom went to the beat of his own drum,” he added with a chuckle.
Tom Fickett graduated from John Bapst in 2015.
O’Connell also discovered the depth of the love and loyalty that exists within the Fickett family — a dynamic that made Tom Fickett’s untimely passing even harder for everyone to handle.
“It’s as close a family as I’ve been around,” O’Connell said.
In September, O’Connell and John Bapst team members attended the celebration of life for Tom Fickett. They presented the family with his No. 12 football jersey, which he wore to emulate his favorite player, New England quarterback Tom Brady.
“As long as I’m coaching (at John Bapst), no one else is going to wear it,” O’Connell said of No. 12. “That’s a tribute to him.”
Despite the disappearance of the autographed football, Chris Fickett Sr. is optimistic about getting it back — hopefully in time for Sunday’s big game.
“I can feel that it’s going to happen,” he said.