From the day he first walked into the locker room inside Gillette Stadium, Devin McCourty seemed destined for an impactful career. Thirteen years later, he delivered that and much more.
McCourty announced his retirement on Friday, bringing an end to a tenure that won't soon be forgotten in Foxborough. Professionalism.
These are just a few of the words that come to mind when discussing McCourty. Notice we haven't even scratched the surface of his on-field playing ability, which was more than enough to receive plenty of accolades as well.
That's because even though his three All-Pro selections, four Pro Bowls and remarkable 12 years as a team captain highlight the career of a remarkable football player, McCourty was far more impressive behind the scenes. Whether it was an early transition from All-Pro cornerback to All-Pro safety or a willingness to sacrifice personal stats for the team, McCourty was always willing to do whatever it took to win.
And that's how his time in Foxborough will be remembered – as an inspirational force behind a whole lot of winning.
The day McCourty arrived after being tabbed in the first round in 2010, he was met with some skepticism. In describing his newest rookie, Bill Belichick gushed about his versatility and explained that he was capable of playing on all four downs. This misled some into believing that McCourty was strictly a special teams player. Instead, just as Belichick said, he turned out to be the ultimate every-down player.
McCourty missed just five games in 13 seasons and took part in fewer than 95 percent of the Patriots defensive snaps only twice during that time – playing 94 percent in 2019 and 92 percent in 2014. On special teams he was equally adept at covering kickoffs as he was returning them. His 104-yard touchdown in 2012 stands out as a memorable moment in his storied career.
But while his contributions toward winning three Super Bowls are well known, no moment will top 2018. That was the season he got to share his success with twin brother Jason, who arrived that season after a long and fruitless career trying in vain just to make it to the playoffs. The sight of the two embracing in Kansas City following the overtime victory in the AFC Championship remains an indelible memory for anyone who had the pleasure of watching.
And I include myself in that department. As members of the media we are supposed to attack our jobs with the utmost professionalism and neutrality. Devin McCourty made that impossible. That's because Devin McCourty is impossible not to like. With a virtually omnipresent smile on his face, he was always willing to talk about an opponent, a teammate or most importantly family.
McCourty grew up Nyack, New York, and played youth football for an organization that I once had the pleasure of competing against about a thousand years ago as a Pop Warner player myself. I joked with him about the program, and when I told him that my Everett team was no match for his during that Thanksgiving weekend way back in 1981 – roughly two decades before he would be suiting up for his first football game – he immediately took the opportunity to engage in some playful banter.
"What did you expect," he started in his trademark raspy voice. "Did you think because you played for Everett you'd come down here and beat me? We weren't just any old team. You're lucky we took it easy on you otherwise you might have quit the game for good."
First, I was surprised he knew that Everett has a rich football tradition. Second, considering he was not looking at the most imposing ex-football player, I was surprised he responded in the first place and didn't smirk at the suggestion that this 50-something year-old guy was trying to pass himself off as a football player.
But that's not where it ended. McCourty started asking me about my playing days, and then asked about my kids and if they played. At the time my youngest was starting high school and for the first time my two boys would be sharing the same field. Devin wanted to know what positions they played, how much they enjoyed it, how the coaches were and how I felt watching them play. He told me to cherish it, because it would be over soon.
By the time we were done talking I felt like he had interviewed me. That's how McCourty was different from many other players – he was honestly interested in others and considered it enjoyable getting to know us. Rodney Harrison was similar in that way. Richard Seymour too. But it's rare, and McCourty stood out as unique in this regard.
And that's how McCourty played the game, too. Team first, making sure everyone was on the same page and lined up properly and above all else prepared to do what it took to win. That mentality helped lead to five trips to the Super Bowl and three titles, all of which he was instrumentally a part of.
And that's how McCourty is off the field as well. He and his brother partnered with Embrace Kids Foundation and launched Tackle Sickle Cell to help raise awareness and money to fight sickle cell disease. It's one of countless charitable endeavors he has supported over the years.
The advice McCourty once offered me was at the forefront of my mind this past November when my oldest son played his last game. Unfortunately, a broken arm ended his season prematurely, but the finality of watching him play didn't really hit until Thanksgiving when he and the rest of the seniors lingered on the field for an hour, likely just trying to soak up every last bit of football before taking off the pads for good. Some will go on to play in college, but Will's football days were over.
"Cherish the memories," McCourty told me a couple of years earlier. At the risk of forfeiting my "objective media card" that's exactly what I will do for No. 32.
Presenting the best photos of safety Devin McCourty.