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Larry Izzo sees big difference from Giants’ side

Ex-Patriot now a New York coach

FOXBOROUGH - Larry Izzo didn’t see it. The former Patriots special teams captain didn’t understand how anyone could characterize last night’s Super Bowl as a rematch from four years ago in Glendale, Ariz.

“It’s not a rematch, to be honest with you,’’ said Izzo. “Because I don’t see Rodney Harrison. I don’t see Tedy Bruschi. I don’t see Mike Vrabel. I’m not playing in the game. So there’s a lot of change since the last time the two teams played each other in the Super Bowl.

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“It’s different teams. So it’s not so much of a rematch as it’s just the Super Bowl.’’

The last time the teams met in the Super Bowl, Izzo and the Patriots were on the wrong end of a 17-14 score to the Giants. Last night, Izzo opposed his former team as the Giants’ first-year special teams coach.

But there were awkward feelings on Izzo’s part.

“Not really, because I think all the strangeness occurred when I went to the Jets,’’ Izzo said with a chuckle, referring to the last stop of his 13-year career after eight seasons with the Patriots. “So this is nothing compared to that, really.

“I played for the Dolphins, then I went to New England. I played for the Patriots, then I went to the Jets, so now I’m here with the Giants as a coach and I’ve already gone through all those weird feelings.’’

A three-time Pro Bowl selection, including with the Patriots in 2002 and 2004, Izzo played 127 games for New England, and coach Bill Belichick came to regard him as the best special teams player he ever coached.

“Certainly, Larry Izzo did a great job for us here as a player and special teams captain, leader,’’ Belichick said. “He was a great tone-setter. I would definitely put him up there at the top of that list of the players I’ve coached.’’

One reason Izzo was held in such high regard was that, although he was listed as a linebacker, he knew his role as a special teamer. And he always did his job.

“I was a linebacker who played in the kicking game, but obviously I was a backup,’’ Izzo said. “ One reason I played as long as I did was because I knew what my role was and I worked hard, trying to be the best that I could in that role.

“I always prided myself in playing linebacker and, if needed, I would feel like I could get it done. But I didn’t have a false sense of who I was. Sometimes you can see a guy, if he would just focus on what he was doing instead of focusing on what he wishes he was doing, he’d be more effective.’’

Still, Izzo was humbled when told of Belichick’s compliment.

“It’s very kind of him to say that and I appreciate it,’’ Izzo said. “I respect the hell out of Coach Belichick and feel very fortunate to have played for him and been exposed to so many great experiences and knowledge.

“The eight years I had there with him were amazing. I felt very lucky to be in that organization. Still have some very close friends there. It’s fun to be in this game, regardless, knowing some guys over there. I’m happy for them that they’ve reached this point, but I’m happier for us.’’

At the end of his career, Izzo said he took 2010 off to evaluate.

“I always said that they were going to have to kick me out, because I’m not going to be that guy who’s going to retire with more left in the tank,’’ he said. “I think I maxed out what was in the tank. I went down to the Jets and the body started to show the years, the 13 years.

“I had a very satisfying career, so I left without any bitterness or no regret about anything. Then I took the year off, which was good, and dabbled in some things outside of football and realized that this is what I wanted to be involved with, so that’s why I’m very fortunate to be where we are here with the Giants.

“I can’t say enough about the organization and working with Tom Coughlin, and it is a very similar structure [to the Patriots] as far as how they approach the game.

“I couldn’t be happier with how things turned out. To be with a great organization, great players as far as good guys to be around, it’s been a real smooth adjustment.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.
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