Chris and Tina Fickett’s Super Bowl party was largely no different from other gatherings around Maine on Sunday evening to watch the New England Patriots battle the Atlanta Falcons in the ultimate game of the National Football League season.

The event included plenty of food for the pro-Patriots crowd. Among the offerings for the gathering of 12 to 15 family members and friends at the Fickett Mountain Trail home in Clifton were “Falcon and dumplings” and “Falcon wings.” Also evident was the gamut of emotions as New England improbably rallied from a 25-point deficit for a 34-28 overtime victory that marked the greatest comeback in the Super Bowl’s 51-year history.

“We had an awesome get-together,” said Chris Fickett. “We get together every Sunday. It doesn’t matter if it’s opening day or midseason, we gather and cook food and watch the games.

“Of course, last night we had a few more people over, and it’s a little louder because it’s the Super Bowl, but it was a great gathering, and then into the early hours of this morning we were still talking about it,” he said.

Those gathered also discussed the big Patriots fan who wasn’t there but was never really far away, 19-year-old Harold “Thomas” Fickett III, a former football player at John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor who died in a pickup truck crash in Unity on Aug. 16, 2016.

“We thought about Tom many times throughout the night. He was right here,” said Chris Fickett, his father. “The emotions at the end were tough, people were in tears because Tom was just an absolutely diehard fan, and it was almost like without his help we wouldn’t have won that game.

“I got down on my knee at one point and said, ‘Tom, we need a hand. We’ve got to have this one,’ and they pulled it out. The feeling was overwhelming,” he said.

Also missing from the festivities was one of Tom Fickett’s prized possessions, a football autographed by some New England players that was given to him as a 5-year-old on his dad’s shoulders during a rally for the team at Bass Park in Bangor after the Patriots won the first of their five Super Bowl championships in 2002.

The football was to be part of a memorial display at the Ficketts’ Super Bowl party but turned up missing recently when Chris Fickett Sr. went to look for it. The family presumes it was stolen by someone who had access to the home while they were on Christmas vacation in Florida.

So far, the enticement of a $1,000 reward put up by Chris Fickett for the return of the ball with no questions asked has gone unanswered.

“No word on the ball yet,” he said. “It probably will never be found, but we’ll hope that somebody maybe mails it to us. That would be fine. Drop it off on the front porch, I don’t care.

“Somebody’s got it out there and lots of times money will get it back for you, but I’m still waiting. We’ll see what happens,” he said.

Publicity surrounding the Ficketts’ missing football in advance of Sunday night’s game sparked considerable public benevolence over the weekend.

When the Patriots became aware of the story, the team sent a package of gifts that included a football autographed by quarterback Tom Brady, with whom Tom Fickett shared the uniform number 12.

In addition, former University of Maine football coach Jack Cosgrove presented the family another of the six footballs given out during the 2002 Bangor rally, and Joe Gallant, principal of All Saints Catholic School in Bangor, gave the Ficketts a similarly autographed football.

A Texas man who learned of the case via Twitter also offered to send the Ficketts an authentic NFL game jersey autographed by Brady. It was to have been mailed on Monday.

And former Bangor High School football coach Mark Hackett compiled a DVD of local TV stations’ coverage of the 2002 Patriots celebration — which included footage of the Ficketts.

“It’s been a great outpouring of support for sure,” said Chris Fickett. “Most people are flabbergasted at why anybody would take that ball, but with the realities of life and the world we live in, it’s a common thing.”

While there’s uncertainty about whether the family will ever see Tom Fickett’s autographed football again, the family is certain he would have enjoyed Super Bowl LI.

“This season’s been really tough,” said his father. “Every Sunday is hard because from the time I lugged him around in a stroller he never, ever missed a game.

“I’m glad we capped it off with a win the way we did because it means a lot more that way,” he said. “I just wish he was here because he would have been beside himself with the way things turned out.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...