FOXBOROUGH – The best times on the job are the chances to get to know the players as men, what shaped them, what motivates them — the opportunities to talk to them about something other than their next opponent.
I asked 20 Patriots players, rookies and veterans, first-round picks, undrafted guys and guys in between, for their thoughts on what it means to put on an NFL uniform, and in some cases, followed up with whether they still get nervous or excited when they pull on their jersey for game day. I wish I’d been able to get to every player in the locker rom.
Some were taken aback by the question, because it’s not one they’re asked often, if ever – which is why it generated some terrific and candid answers.
In their own words, what it means to some Patriots to wear an NFL uniform:
LS Danny Aiken, 4th NFL season
“Dream come true. Being part of the team and an organization and coming out and working every day to get better, it means a lot and it’s a pleasure.”
WR Danny Amendola, 6th season
“Playing with and against the best of the best. That’s it, really.
“You have certain moments and they’re throughout the year that you . . . you’re like, ‘Wow, this is something I’ve been dreaming about my whole life,’ but to me it’s still, most of the time it’s another year of football, another year of hanging out with guys in the locker room and the camaraderie that comes with it. That’s the best part about it, is the locker room and your friends, your boys, being with your guys all the time.”
CB Kyle Arrington, 6th season
“It’s an honor, it’s a privilege, it’s a childhood dream.”
“Every day I wake up and the opportunity I have, it seems surreal every day.”
RB Brandon Bolden, 3d season
“A lot of hard work and dedication will get you a long way from home. That’s what it’s been for me, had people telling me I couldn’t do football because I was too big or too slow, and here I am today, still putting on that NFL uniform. So it’s just shutting up all the naysayers that said I couldn’t be here.”
QB Tom Brady, 15th season
“Well . . . It’s a privilege. I think you have a lot of responsibility, because when you have kids, you realize how important you are as a role model and the difference you can make in people’s life. That’s a real thing; it’s not cliché: when you see kids at Halloween and they have your jersey on, it’s a pretty big deal. And I look back at pictures that I have when I was such a fan of Steve Young and Joe Montana and going to Candlestick Park and all those memories that were created, that’s pretty neat to be able to do that, and I think sometimes when you’re younger, you don’t have that perspective.
“I think as you get older and your kids start coming to games, it’s a great thing. You have such a great opportunity to do a lot of good things, and I think our team has always done a really good job of that: trying to be positive, trying to be great example, and it’s a special thing. When you don’t have the opportunity to play, that’s the hard part, and I experienced that when I got hurt. You realize how much you love it and how much you want to keep doing it.”
CB Brandon Browner, 5th season
“Oh, it means everything. That was my dream as a child, my dream was fulfilled, but I’m here and at the same time, I want to make a name for myself, so when I’m done with it, they’ll be able to say something about me as a player. It means a lot; I just want to be, when it’s done, one of those guys that made a name for himself, pretty much.”
“Every game, I get nervous. It’s pretty cliché to say, but when that nervous feeling of butterflies goes away, I think that’s when it’s time to hang it up. Sometimes I have to listen to my meditation music, nature sounds, to settle myself down, so I’m not over-nervous or over-anxious about anything.”
OL Marcus Cannon, 4th season
“It means a lot. I don’t know where to start . . . for one, it reminds me of everything I worked hard to do, and another is it reminds me of what organization I’m part of, and it means a lot and I’m very thankful for the opportunity I get to wear it.”
“I do get excited. I get excited for practice, putting on the jersey. Not everybody has this opportunity, and we’re not going to be doing this for long, and it’s a blessing and it’s not going to last long so you’ve got to always make the best of it, the ups and downs, ins and outs, whatever’s bad, whatever’s good, just make the best of it.”
WR Julian Edelman, 6th season
“You can put one word: dream.”
TE Rob Gronkowski, 5th season
“It means a lot — representing the shield of the NFL, it’s huge. It’s an honor, and it’s a dream come true, no doubt about that.
“Sometimes I think about it, and I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m in the NFL.’ I still think about it to this day. Growing up, that’s all you wanted to do and it’s very special. You have to enjoy every moment.”
DB Duron Harmon, 2d season
“It means everything in the world, because it’s something that I had a goal of since I was 5 or 6, and then for me to progress all the way to get here, it’s like a dream before my eyes, and I just know that I’m blessed to be in this position, because millions of people work and are still working to get here and might not ever get here, but for me to say that I had the opportunity to play in an NFL game and even start some, is just a great feeling.”
“Yes [I get excited]. All the time. Every Sunday, because it’s not promised. This game is not promised. You can get injured, you could get cut, anything can happen to where you might not be able to play this game again, and to play it at the highest level, you should always go out there, each and every day, and just be excited to play, because one day it’s going to stop, and then you’re going to say, ‘what if?’ and I don’t want to be that person.”
TE Michael Hoomanawanui, 5th season
“Definitely a dream come true. I grew up around football — my dad, all his friends, I was always around football, so I always had a love for it. Contact, the feeling of going out there on a Sunday is different from pee wee to high school to college, seeing the fans, seeing the diehard fans out there, everybody pumped up . . . it’s just a dream come true to be on an NFL team. It’s a blessing.”
DL Chris Jones, 2d season
“First off, it’s a blessing being able to wear the uniform. Second, I think it just reminds me of all the hard work I put in. I wasn’t a big recruit out of high school and I buckled down and realized that it was something that I really wanted to do was play football and I worked hard enough and God allowed me to stay healthy throughout college and I had my chance and now He’s giving me even more opportunities here. The No. 1 word is blessed.”
S Devin McCourty, 5th season
“I would say a dream come true. It represents a lot of people where I grew up, their dream. I always feel like when I play I represent my hometown and everyone that wanted to be here . . . Over the last couple of years, I always think about [former Rutgers teammate] Eric LeGrand [who was paralyzed during a game], before every game I think about I know he wanted to be at this level, so I just remind myself how fortunate I am to be here because I know how much, and I got to see firsthand, how much he wanted to play in this league.”
DL Zach Moore, rookie
“Oooh . . . How can I word this correctly? The culmination of a lot of hard work that I put in to get to this level. Honor. Privilege. Something that many young boys dream about and sacrifice and just success, all the work that I put in to get here.
“I’ll say the one time I got butterflies was the first preseason game, but after that it’s just been smooth sailing. That first game it was like, ‘Whoa.’ Reality check. That’s when it really hit.”
CB Darrelle Revis, 8th season
“To me it means that you fulfilled a lifelong dream. I probably can speak for everybody in here that we’ve been playing since we were in Pop Warner, 6 or 7 years old, so probably had dreams of being a professional athlete and professional football player. One, it means fulfilling a lifelong dream, two, that name on your back, which you represent, represent your family, yourself, the organization, the New England Patriots organization. So there’s a lot of stuff tied into it. But at the same time, you get to go out there every Sunday and compete. I’d just say those two things: a lifelong dream, and you’re representing an organization that’s been here for a number of years. You’re representing the guys before you as well that played here. It’s awesome; it’s awesome. You get to do something you love to do. I don’t think people really understand how grateful we are to do what we do.”
DL Sealver Siliga, 3d season
“It means the world to me, especially the trail I [took] to the NFL. It means the world to me just to have the opportunity to put the jersey on, and actually, to put the helmet on and go practice. And from practice, it means the world to me to go play in the game, go out there and have the lights on, hear the roar of the fans – it means a lot to me.”
“I always do [get excited]. I always do. I walk in here, just see the atmosphere of Sunday and I look at my jersey, I see it already on my pads, and just know that every Sunday is a new Sunday and that opportunity is limited, especially in this league, so you have to take advantage of everything. It’s special to me, just knowing where I came from and now how everything turned out.”
WR Matthew Slater, 7th season
“Oh wow. I think that’s one of the things I’m most proud of in my life. I feel like it’s definitely a gift from God, and I don’t know why He chose me to do this, but I’m very thankful for it and it’s extra special to be able to do what my daddy did, essentially. It really means a lot to me and my family, and it’s really such a blessing, such a gift from God and so humbling to be able to take that field every week. I feel like the luckiest kid alive. I know I’m not necessarily a kid anymore but feel so blessed to do what we do and try not to take it for granted.”
OT Nate Solder, 4th season
“I don’t know – it kind of blows my mind. You don’t think of that as a kid, that it would actually happen to you, so I think it’s a little surreal, I think that it’s a huge honor to be part of an elite group, and it’s just an exciting league to be part of. I think sometimes we take it for granted a little bit; I know I do. But when you reflect on it, it’s a pretty unreal thing.”
WR Brian Tyms, 2d season
“It means a lot [exhales]. How can I answer that? I don’t know – it just means a lot. It’s everything. It’s what helped my family come out of the hole, it’s what helped me come out of the hole, so I take it serious, I’m intense about it, I’m passionate and emotional about it, so it’s everything.”
DL Vince Wilfork, 11th season
“I mean, it’s everything I’ve dreamed of. When I was 4 years old, that’s one thing I said I wanted to do, and I’m doing it. For me to play the game that I really love at the highest level — it doesn’t get any higher than the NFL — for me to play that and live that dream, that’s a blessing for me. That’s what it means for me to put on an NFL uniform, because it’s just a dream that I had when I was 4, and now here I am, 33 years old, living out that dream. It’s special to me. It’s a blessing.
“I get excited. Never butterflies, never scared. Football is natural to me. But I’m always excited. I think that’s just the passion of the game that I love. Being passionate about it, that’s what makes people special, and that’s what makes this game special, when you have guys that can play this game how it needs to be played, at the level it needs to be played at, that’s how you get great teams. I’ve been fortunate to be on some good teams, with great teammates, over the course of my career here, and that’s just the way they do things around here: bring in the best guys, and we play for one another. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”