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New England Patriots

New England Patriots

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

  • Before Bill Belichick handed the phone to owner Robert Kraft on the first night of the 2010 NFL Draft, the Patriots twice delayed their selection, trading with Denver and Dallas to drop from the 22nd pick to the 27th.

    When they finally chose Rutgers defensive back Devin McCourty, many outsiders considered it a questionable call. But as Kraft took hold of the handset inside the team’s headquarters, he’d been told differently.

    “We heard that you’re the perfect Patriot,” he said to McCourty, pressing the receiver to his left ear and continuing. “You represent everything we’re about.”

    Kraft heard right. The Pats went backward for the best man to help lead them forward.

    At the time, you’ll recall — or you’ll be reminded the next time “A Football Life: Bill Belichick,” filmed in 2009, re-airs on NFL Network — they were coming off an embarrassing Wild Card loss and in need of repairing cracks in their cultural foundation.

    In McCourty, they got a rock on which to build the second half of their two-decade dynasty. Or, as Belichick referred to Devin on Friday, “a pillar” who proved Kraft’s words prophetic.

    Consistently. Sometimes spectacularly. Always steadily and authentically, as both player and person. Never failing to live up to such high praise in 13 seasons as a Patriot.

    On Friday, McCourty told us there won’t be a 14th, announcing his decision to retire in an online video with identical twin Jason, who, as a teammate from 2018-20, represented the closest we’ll ever get to a clone of “the perfect Patriot.”

    Combining an athletic DNA made equally of speed and strength with a mental and emotional alchemy combining toughness, intellect and character, McCourty was a remarkably durable player and unfailingly dependable person.

    He steps aside after 229 regular- and postseason starts, his last (a 115th straight) at age 35; his body of work fit for coats in red and gold, respectively, as a will-be Patriots and should-be Pro Football Hall of Famer.

    A three-time champ who came this close to two more titles. A four-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro. A 12-time captain. A playmaker. A difference maker.

    Blessed with speed, range and smarts, McCourty picked off 34 regular-season passes — only two fewer than franchise interception leaders Ty Law and Raymond Clayborn. Effort and instincts made him an accomplice to many more.

    Take the time Miami’s Ryan Tannehill lobbed a pass toward Mike Wallace in October 2013. Tracking the football from center field to the offense’s right sideline, McCourty timed his leap impeccably, high-pointed it and, like a basketball player about to land out of bounds, made a two-handed save to a toe-tapping Marquice Cole.

    Cole was credited with the pick. McCourty made it happen.

    It’s like so much of his finest work, for which there is no accounting. As the quarterback of New England’s defense, he coordinated coverages, counseled secondary mates between series and communicated last-second, pre-snap alerts. McCourty did it all to prevent potential game-turning moments.

  • EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - OCTOBER 30: Devin McCourty #32 of the New England Patriots celebrates an interception during the second half against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on October 30, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

    (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

    The Pats often left him alone as a single-high safety, leaving McCourty to make up the ground covering for others. If required in the box, he stopped opponents as a textbook tackler — consistently hitting purposefully but never maliciously.

    In 11,102 defensive snaps, including 971 tackles, according to Pro Football Reference, McCourty was called for just three personal fouls. He was here to help, not hurt his team.

    Contrary to draft-night critics, McCourty was a Pro Bowler and All-Pro (Second Team) right away as a rookie cornerback. He soon shifted to safety and earned each accolade multiple times, joining the company of Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Both have busts in Canton. He deserves one too.

    More than a defender, Devin logged 1,400-plus special-teams plays. He had a 104-yard kickoff return in a 2012 win over the Jets and a 44-yard blocked field goal return in a 2020 rout of the Chargers. Consider him a classic Belichickian four-down player.

    And behind, beneath and above everything that distinguished McCourty on the field is the exemplary life he’s led off it as a compass and voice for others.

    As we, the public, got to see, he wore his personality on his vast collection of colorful t-shirts, worn alternately to press-conference podiums. 

    Many of their messages were sharp-witted, good-natured and plain fun in a stylish way. Sometimes they were more serious, asking us to empathize and think about people and issues we hadn’t considered before. 

    Self-deprecating, (check his reaction to the would-be 35th career pick he dropped vs. the Dolphins in his home finale), McCourty dished playful jabs in the locker room and toward some of his many media pals in the press room. 

    We were privy to glimpses of his pregame pep talks and post-win celebrations, and watched, most joyously, him and Jason jumping into each other’s arms in Kansas City as AFC Champions. And we listened to his soft-spoken reflections amid tough times and after tough losses.

  • Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass during the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium on September 08, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    Teammates at Rutgers, Devin (right) and Jason McCourty reunited as Patriots from 2018-20. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    Above all, Devin’s a gentleman who never lost self-respect by never losing his touch with the commoner. A humanitarian in demeanor and deed.

    Any given season, his good works were worthy of the team’s Ron Burton Community Service Award and the league’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award. He hasn’t just given time; he’s immersed himself in public service.

    To children sick in hospitals, and kids with special needs who want to play games like everyone else. To Boston Medical Center, a city hospital that cares mainly for the underserved, and to fight for a cure for Sickle Cell Anemia, a disease impacting his own family.

    McCourty’s spoken for the unheard and drawn attention to the overlooked. Those who’ve fallen through the cracks in the criminal justice system and those trying to go from street corners to classrooms. Those seeking second chances and those needing first opportunities.

    Devin’s lobbied for students in underfunded local districts and worked to ensure their counterparts back home in Rockland County, N.Y., got the educational resources they needed. He’s done it, as close friend Matthew Slater will tell you, while still always tending to the needs of his children and wife, Michelle.

    Last Monday, Slater, who on second thought might be that clone of “the perfect Patriot,” explained why Devin differs from others he considers good fathers and husbands.

    “I’ve been around a lot of great men in that locker room there in Foxborough,” Slater said into his cell phone. “None — absolutely none — finer than Devin McCourty. And this is not taking away from any of the guys I’ve ever played with, but I think the thing that makes Devin so different is the set of standards that he holds himself to are different than anybody else. What he expects of himself, what he aspires to do, the integrity with which he operates, the courage; I mean, the list goes on. It’s just different.”

  • McCourty Slater

    Matthew Slater (left) and McCourty. (Photo by Chris Unger)

    Slater noted the obvious influence of McCourty’s mother, Phyllis Harrell, and her other sons on young Devin by the time he left home for college, then the NFL.

    “But then I think at some point, once you leave the house as a young person, you’re faced with making decisions,” Slater said. “If you make them consistently one way or the other, they form your character.

    “And I think Devin’s decisions — his decision to be an advocate socially, his decision to commit himself to his craft, to commit himself to his family, his decision to commit himself to his kids — those decisions that he’s consistently made year after year really set him apart.”

    They’re the kind of choices, Slater explains, anyone can make. But few do, especially those in the public eye, as continuously and for as long as his close friend Devin. His habits were unbroken; his will to win was unbending.

    “His leadership, his ability to hold people accountable, to hold their attention, to relate to his teammates, that’s all unique,” Slater says, summing McCourty up perfectly. “But it’s all of those things combined with consistency over time.

    “There’s never been another Patriot, and there never will be another Patriot like Devin McCourty.” 

    Bob Socci has called play-by-play for the Patriots Radio Network on 98.5 The Sports Hub since 2013. Follow him on Twitter @BobSocci.

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