These veterans are hoping they finally have some jewelry in store
INDIANAPOLIS - When the Patriots clinched the AFC East title and home-field advantage as the conference’s top seed, Kyle Love vowed to play with a higher sense of purpose in the playoffs. He wanted to play not only for himself but for his veteran teammates who had never had the opportunity to experience postseason success.
Love, a second-year defensive tackle from Mississippi State, recalled looking across the locker room before the playoffs and asking veteran wide receiver Chad Ochocinco how many rings he had won over his 11-year NFL career.
“None,’’ Ochocinco replied.
That was when Love dedicated himself to helping Ochocinco, defensive tackle Gerard Warren, and guard Brian Waters - all ringless veterans who found refuge in Foxborough after escaping from teams with little to no playoff hopes - realize their Super Bowl dreams.
Since the Patriots’ 23-20 victory over the Ravens in the AFC Championship game Jan. 22, it has become more of a reality and less of a pipe dream as the Patriots began the final countdown to their matchup tomorrow against the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Every day I see Ocho, I tell him, ‘We’re going to get you one, we’re going to get you one,’ ’’ Love said. “We’re all going to do it.’’
Although he was limited to one touchdown catch this season, Ochocinco, 34, who gained a reputation during his decade with the Bengals for outlandish end zone celebrations, was asked how he planned to celebrate if he scored in the Super Bowl.
“Normally, everybody knows I have crazy celebrations that I do all the time,’’ said Ochocinco, who was more subdued in his first year with the Patriots, making just 15 catches for 276 yards, both career lows. “I’ve been kind of quiet on the celebrations and the production this year, so if I score this Sunday I might do something. It’s the biggest stage.’’
Waters never thought he would get the chance to bask in the Super Bowl spotlight when he toiled for 11 seasons in Kansas City, never winning a playoff game.
“I knew that as I got older,’’ said the 34-year-old Waters, a six-time Pro Bowl player, “that my chances were getting slimmer and slimmer.’’
After going 0 for 3 in playoff games with the Chiefs, Waters has gone 2-0 in the Patriots’ run to the Super Bowl.
“This is probably the most excited I have been in a long time, since the birth of my children probably,’’ Waters said. “God knows this has been unbelievable and I have been truly blessed. I appreciate my teammates and these guys welcomed me here and just gave me an opportunity to do something special.’’
Warren, who was the third overall pick by the Browns in 2001, went to just one playoff game in four seasons with Cleveland, a wild-card loss to the Steelers in 2002. He didn’t make another postseason appearance until he was traded to the Broncos in 2005 and helped Denver defeat the Patriots, 27-13, in a divisional-round home game.
Warren made it the AFC Championship game, but was thwarted from savoring the Super Bowl experience when the Broncos bowed to the Steelers.
But Warren seemed to put those frustrations behind him as he stood on the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium, soaking up the controlled chaos of Super Bowl Media Day.
“This is the reason why I came to the NFL,’’ Warren said, beaming from behind his thick beard. “It took me 11 long years to get here, but thank God I’m here now.’’
The Broncos traded Warren to the Raiders, who released him after three seasons. The Patriots signed him in 2010. He played in 16 games, making 10 starts, and recorded 28 tackles (including 3 1/2 sacks) in his first season in New England. He was cut at the end of training camp this season, but re-signed on Sept. 28 and wound up playing 12 games in a reserve capacity, making 12 tackles.
Just like the other Super Bowl-starved veterans on the roster, the 33-year-old Warren said he was lured by the opportunity to play for Bill Belichick.
“Just from watching Coach Belichick over the years, and understanding that this is why we play the game, that’s the reason why I wanted to come to New England,’’ Warren said. “I had other places I could’ve gone, but I knew that of all the other coaches, there was one guy who stuck out to me.’’
Will there be tears if the Patriots win? “Could be, I don’t know,’’ Warren said. “The emotions, can you control them? Will I try to fight it back if they come? No, I won’t. Who knows?’’
Certainly, Warren was told, Love was deserving of some recognition for his labors on behalf of the ringless veterans.
“Well, it lets me know that he’s the ultimate teammate,’’ Warren said. “Like I told him in return, ‘I want to win one for you as well.’ So that’s what a team is about; it’s about playing for each other and playing with a purpose and a mission.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.