JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- All the blood, toil, tears, and sweat that make up the professional life of the typical New England Patriot is geared toward one goal -- to be a Super Bowl champion.
That is not speculation. That is not hyperbole. That is fact. There is no room for anyone whose purpose is to attain personal honors. If someone is that way, he keeps it to himself. There might be a faker in this group, but I don't have any idea who it might be. The typical Patriot is proud to be, well, a typical Patriot.
Many Patriots already are multiple Super Bowl winners. As such, each man has a couple of shares and a pair of rings. But the payout is modest compared to what baseball and basketball players get, and the rings are, in the end, mere symbols. It's not as if anyone is ever going to wear the gaudy bauble. Everyone talks about "wanting the ring," and then the ring goes into the safe-deposit box.
So what are they really playing for?
They are playing for a feeling.
"Emotionally speaking," says Willie McGinest, who's been with this team long enough to lose and win a Super Bowl, "you can't really describe what's going through your body. It's indescribable."
There is a great emotional release when the game ends. We're Super Bowl champs! In both Patriot triumphs, the game was decided by a last-second field goal. In both wins, the Patriots appeared to be cruising to victory when the opponent suddenly started moving the ball and scoring at will. They were the kind of games that would have produced a phenomenal sigh of relief had they occurred during the regular season, let alone in the sport's ultimate game. There was none of the stand-on-the-sideline-with-a-big-grin stuff, no deciding who would dump Gatorade on Coach Belichick. They were very tough games on the nervous system.
For some, the great feeling of joy and satisfaction is immediate. You're still on the field, you're surrounded by your teammates, the men with whom you've done everything from moan-and-groan through the July two-a-days to suffering through the sub-freezing days of December and January, and you realize, right then and there, that this is why you play.
Troy Brown was able to take the on-field experience a bit farther last year. "I was able to get my two boys from the stands," Brown says. "I had them down on the field with me, with the confetti falling on our heads and everything else that was going on."
McGinest says the great thing for him last year was looking at Rodney Harrison, the rugged safety who had to smile through the pain of a broken arm. "To think of all the years he put in, all the training, all the years he had individual success, but no real team success, and then to see the look on his face was very special to me," McGinest maintains. "I think I was happier for him than myself."
Others find the feeling hits them a bit later. "I think when it gets me is the parade," says offensive guard Joe Andruzzi. "To see and hear millions of people out there cheering for you and congratulating you on what you've accomplished, it kind of hits you in the face. It's a great feeling."
McGinest is another who says the parade is when the whole thing really hits him. "It's all kind a blur, even now," he says, "but the parade is when it hits me, and then maybe a few weeks later."
Special teams player extraordinaire Larry Izzo notes that with both Super Bowl triumphs ending in winning field goals by Adam Vinatieri there is a lot of spontaneous celebration taking place on the field. He also likes the parade, where "you feel like a rock star." And then, he says, "you feel that high for weeks, and only later do you look back to realize what it is that you've really accomplished."
Then we have Tom Brady, who has a more complex response to the phenomenon. "The first time around, it took a while for it all to hit me," he explains. "But last year it came a lot quicker. I looked around and saw guys who hadn't been with us the first time. It was great to see the smiles on the faces of guys like Rodney, Larry Centers, and Christian Fauria. That meant a lot to me."
All team sport athletes share a sense of group accomplishment. They can all reflect on the good, and not-so-good, moments of a long season. But with all due respect to those gritty hockey players, no players put their bodies on the line for the common good more than football players. By the middle of the season, they're all hurting to some degree, and only those men inside the locker room know what they have gone through in order to achieve their goal.
So it is safe to say that no other professional team sport athletes have a deeper feeling of satisfaction than the ones who come together in the heat of July and then walk off the field 6 1/2 months later as Super Bowl champions.
It's not the money, it's not the rings, and it's surely not for the history (that appreciation comes much later). No, the Patriots are playing to regain the feeling. It's that simple.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.