By Bob Socci, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Anyone around the NFL for any length of time understands it’s a long way from late August to early February. Nobody knows that today better than 10-year pro Jason McCourty.
Way back when on the final Thursday of the preseason, many of us wondered whether he would even make it to September as a Patriot.
Including, it turns out, McCourty himself.
While more than half of the Pats’ roster were kept off the field that night in the Meadowlands — some due to injury, many more to avoid it — he found found himself trying to fit a new job description while fighting to earn a spot alongside his twin brother Devin.
A lifetime cornerback, Jason was inserted at safety for 17 snaps against the Giants. Even such a small sampling — about a fifth of the team’s defensive plays — was enough to signal to the savvy veteran what it suggested to others: he was no lock to make the opening-day roster.
After all, reps in the preseason finale are largely reserved for youngsters in need of experience and others seemingly unlikely to survive the cut.
“I think I told Dev at halftime, ‘I guess it was fun while it lasted,’” Jason said during Wednesday’s Super Bowl availability inside Atlanta’s Hyatt Regency hotel. “At that point I was just worried about trying to put good football on tape. You don’t really know what’s going on at that time of year.
“I had talked to the coaches (who) wanted to just see me play a little safety and see what I could do. I (spent) the whole training camp at corner and knew where I was there. At that point, it was, ‘Alright, let’s just go out here and play football. This is the sport you grew up playing that you love and you get paid to play.’ So to complain because you’re in a game and it’s preseason, I’d be a fool. But at the end of the day, I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
It so happens that McCourty never really needed to update his resume reel for any other teams. His own coaches had seen enough to keep him around — and keep him at cornerback.
Although McCourty was used on defense for just five snaps a week and a half later in the opener vs. Houston, his playing time spiked remarkably the next 17 weeks. He started a dozen games and finished the regular season in the lineup for nearly 80 percent of New England’s defensive snaps.
“You fast forward probably midway through the season when I was playing some significant snaps and was like, ‘Months ago I didn’t know if that was going to be the case,” McCourty said. “Now to be sitting here at the Super Bowl and being able to help the team get to this point, it’s been a year of ups and downs. But it’s been a ton of fun.”
Nine years into his NFL career, Jason had played on two winning teams in Tennessee. Five times as a Titan and Brown, he endured at least 10 losses, including the misery of 0-16 during his lone campaign in Cleveland.
Meanwhile, Devin was a perennial postseason participant, reaching four Super Bowls. In those years, Jason regularly traveled to be with his twin brother. While Devin practiced, Jason occupied his days making rounds on radio row or appearing at autograph signings around town. At night, they’d get together to grab dinner.
Closer to game day, as family and friends arrived in the host cities, Jason served as their chauffeur.
“Even if I had to use his rental car to pick people up and transport them, I was kind of like his little personal assistant for the week of the Super Bowl,” Jason recounted. “Just to make sure he could focus solely on the game.”
Not that he minded, necessarily. Each Super Bowl appearance for Devin was an opportunity for Jason to bring his wife and kids to meet up with his mom, aunt and older brother.
“Throughout the entire course of the year I’d be in Nashville or Cleveland and (Devin) would be wherever he was,” Jason points out. “It was almost like a family vacation sponsored by Dev.”
This week driving duty belongs to someone else. It’s a working vacation for both McCourty boys.
You can hear Bob Socci on the call of the game on every game day for the New England Patriots, right here on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can also hear him on his own The Gridiron And Beyond podcast at 985TheSportsHub.com.