By Juli McDonald

CANTON (CBS) – They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder and that rings true for diehard Patriots fans like Canton’s Jimmy Baker. After staring at his decked out Patriots bus in the driveway for far too long – Thursday, for the team’s first preseason game, she’ll be back where she belongs.

“What you see, we built. We did everything. My son-in-law and myself. We go tailgating every chance we can,” Baker said proudly.

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The Bakers sure missed Gillette Stadium during last season without fans – but they had to make do, cheering from an incredible man cave.

There will be no physical tickets to add to the collection this season – fans will now have to use their mobile devices to get in. The whole stadium has also gone cashless. Small sacrifices, for the reward of returning.

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“Going down Route 1, staying there and partying. We park over at Rodman’s and have a cookout or breakfast whatever time the game is. Everybody in our section – we all know each other. It’s great,” Baker said. “Every time we walk in everybody is high fiving each other, what kind of year we’re going to have.”

Finally filing in again to watch in-person is going to feel like a real thrill. But true fans know some of the most treasured memories end up being less about what happens on the field… and more – who you’re cheering beside.

“I have the opportunity to hang around with my girls every weekend – to hang with dad. Priceless,” Baker says of his daughters.

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The Patriots do ask for a fan promise for those returning to the stadium: you cannot enter if you’ve had a positive COVID test or an exposure in the last 14 days. No one with any symptoms should attend, and unvaccinated fans are asked to wear a mask.

Juli McDonald