SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are the burger and the bun. But what’s the secret sauce that makes the Patriots’ nearly 20-year reign possible?
The answer is contained in Devin McCourty’s explanation of why he’ll be back for a 10th season in 2019.
Speaking on the Sports Spectrum podcast this week, McCourty said he got caught up in the moment at the Super Bowl when asked by Deion Sanders if he’d hang it up if the Patriots won the Super Bowl.
And now, less than three weeks removed from his third Super Bowl win, McCourty is saying he’s realized the ring was not the thing. It’s the chase. It’s the process. It’s the -- for lack of better terms -- program and tradition that Patriots players feel compelled to propagate.
“In that moment (when hinting at retirement) I forgot I don’t play this game just to win Super Bowls,” McCourty said. “There’s so much more that comes from me playing this game that I love. Once you get a chance to step away for a couple weeks now you realize, ‘Yeah, I still do want to be around these other young guys that are coming in.’ ”
Winning a championship and getting the jewelry that comes with it has long been seen as the ultimate end-goal for the individual. Players, fans and media have come to regard it as the ultimate for competing.
Jerome Bettis, John Elway and Peyton Manning finished their careers poetically with titles. Dan Marino and Charles Barkley never got theirs. Ray Bourque went to Colorado to chase his. Marcus Morris has spent a good chunk of the season snarling at Celtics teammates he believes are keeping him from having his best chance at winning his.
It makes sense that being part of a championship team is -- to an extent -- an individual goal. A player can reflect on the contribution he made. But when the “me, my, mine” motivation is paramount, it’s no wonder so many players regard getting to the mountain’s peak as the end of a journey and don’t want to start it again.
But the Patriots, as McCourty’s words indicate, instill in some of their most important players a realization they’re part of something bigger than themselves. Something that was here before they arrived and that they need to try and make sure continues after they leave.
It’s important we stop short of over-romanticizing it. Every player isn’t going to bleed silver and blue and get a “Patriot Way” tattoo. They are not the Belichick Youth, marching in formation and blind to business realities and the harshness of their occupation. Last offseason was a good example of a time when key players looked hard at the personal cost-benefit equation.
But whether it’s Tedy Bruschi in 2004 having a long conversation with Corey Dillon in the Gillette Stadium parking lot to impress on him what playing in Foxboro was truly about, or McCourty in 2019 wanting to keep playing in part because he embraces mentoring younger teammates, making sure the Patriots continue being the Patriots is very important to players.
It is as close to a “program” as you can find in professional sports.
McCourty added that being able to “step away” for a couple of weeks helped him regain perspective. And part of that perspective is understanding the value of his “platform” he has as an NFL player.
This weekend, Devin and his twin brother Jason McCourty are on a goodwill visit to Puerto Rico to host a football camp at Roberto Clemente Sports City in San Juan.
The island, which was ripped apart in September 2017 by Hurricane Maria, has bravely put itself back together since and is very much open for business. Puerto Rico wants that message shared.
The McCourtys accepting the offer to visit and spend time in the community makes that message tangible and the gratitude and anticipation here is palpable.
NBCSports Boston will have coverage of the camp, sponsored by Planet Fitness Puerto Rico, this weekend. We’ll also be sitting with the McCourty Twins at the InterContinental San Juan on Sunday for in-depth interviews on this visit, the 2018 Patriots season and a look ahead to the 2019 title defense.
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