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Celtics legend Russell speaks to team

Last year it was Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure at Providence’s Feinstein IMAX Theater. This year, it was Celtics legend Bill Russell.

Last year it was Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure at Providence's Feinstein IMAX Theater. This year, it was Celtics legend Bill Russell.

Like in 2001, Bill Belichick loaded his team on buses and took it to Providence, but this year, it was to watch a 45-minute documentary about Russell. As the video concluded and players sat slumped in their chairs, Russell walked into the theater and the room quickly sat up to pay homage and attention to one of Boston's greatest all-time athletes.

Russell's Celtics won 11 championships in 13 years including seven in a row during the 1960s. The Patriots, to a man, were impressed when a respected athlete of his stature walked into the room.

"I was surprised when he walked in," linebacker Roman Phifer said. "That was cool.

"He definitely got me fired up with how he spoke about winning and the attitude and approach he took to winning and I think a lot of guys felt the same way."

The reactions from players were the same across the board.

"Even before we knew he was there, the documentary about him was excellent," rookie tight end Daniel Graham said. "When he walked out, it was even more exciting. He talked about repeating as champions and how much harder it is the second time."

"The main message," defensive end Anthony Pleasant said, "was that we are the champions and we shouldn't worry about what teams are going to do to us. They should be worrying about how they are going to stop us. That stood out with me.

"He stressed that as professional athletes, we are paid to win not just to play. It was great to see his confidence and how he overcame obstacles. He dealt with racism and people trying to pull him down, but he overcame it. Now we have obstacles to overcome – a harder schedule and people trying to knock us down because we're on top."

Phifer took some of the same points home with him. "He stressed that we have to understand that we are the champs going in, but that it's going to be tougher the second time. But he said that we could be our own worst enemy. If we stay together as a team rather than become individuals, then we have a great chance. He said the toughest parts of repeating come from within and not outside elements."

"He stressed team play too," wide receiver Troy Brown said. "Nobody's bigger than the team. He said that since repeating is twice as hard, you have to work twice as hard and there is a price to pay for everything. We're expecting an uphill battle and we will be ready."

It wasn't all football and championship talk, however. Russell also answered questions about his basketball career and even today's NBA. "He said that if he played against [Shaquille O'Neal] that Shaq would get his points, but that his team would win the game," Graham said.

"Leave it to Bill to bring in a guy like that," defensive end Bobby Hamilton said. "Thirteen years, 11 championships, two as a player-coach. What a great example. He speaks from experience so you listen and try to approach it the way he did. It definitely motivates you."

It's obvious that Belichick's mission was again accomplished, as the NBA legend sent the Patriots home with permanent memories.

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