Seven-year-old Harry Wurr watched every America's Cup race in the final exasperating week from Shed 10 on Auckland's waterfront.
And yesterday, he got out of bed at 3.30am to make sure he had a front row spot at Auckland Airport to welcome back Team New Zealand and tell skipper Dean Barker he was proud of him despite the loss.
"I said, 'Thanks for trying to get the America's Cup for us,' and he said, 'Thanks for coming here to see us'."
Harry's mother, Nicky Wurr, said it was "awesome" so many people had come to show their support.
"I hope they all realise how much everybody loves them."
Draped in New Zealand flags and waving red socks, banners and "welcome home" signs, the crowd at the airport gave loud cheers as team members and their families arrived home after almost five months in San Francisco challenging for sailing's greatest prize.
A bus from Waikato carried supporters holding a huge banner that read: "Emirates Team New Zealand you are our heroes."
Humbled by the size of the crowd that was waiting when his flight arrived at 5.30am, Barker said the pain of defeat was still "very raw".
But he and grinder Rob Waddell made sure every autograph was signed and every fan got a photo.
"It's so humbling and it means so much to everyone to have that sort of support," said Barker. "We would just dearly love to be coming back today with the America's Cup, but unfortunately we couldn't get there."
He reiterated his desire that Team NZ should continue, and said he would like to be part of any future challenge.
His wife, Mandy, said the airport reception had exceeded expectations. "We weren't expecting any of this, so there are a few tears in the eyes, it's very overwhelming."
Meanwhile, fans have started a fundraising page on the Give A Little website for Team NZ's next campaign, which by last night had raised over $10,000.