Only Brady, Wilfork remain from Patriots’ last title team
PHOENIX (AP) — Vince Wilfork still remembers the joy of being showered with confetti on the field where the New England Patriots won their last NFL title.
“It’s something that you really can’t put into words,” he said of that celebration 10 years ago. “Everybody looks at you as a world champion.”
Tom Brady was there, too, savoring his third Super Bowl win in four years.
“I was so young that I didn’t understand what this was all about and how challenging this is,” he said, “because everything happened so fast at such an early part of my career.”
Now, in the latter part, they’re the only players from that team that beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Jacksonville, Florida, who are on the squad that will play the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl on Sunday night.
Older and, no doubt, much wiser.
As elder statesmen on a team with 17 players who weren’t on the club last season, Wilfork and Brady advise youngsters who have helped keep the Patriots near the top of the league despite considerable turnover — 10 AFC East titles in 11 seasons starting when Wilfork was a rookie.
Now he’s a six-time Pro Bowler at defensive tackle. As the roster has changed — 18 current players were drafted by the Patriots in the past five years — he’s guided newcomers.
“I have a great group of guys,” Wilfork said of his fourth Super Bowl team. “I wanted to be a part of getting them there because it’s not about me. It’s about all of them.”
He’s had that selfless attitude for years, a confirmed believer in coach Bill Belichick’s “team above all else” philosophy.
Belichick brings in new defensive players and Wilfork helps nurture them.
On offense, that’s part of a job description Brady embraces. And he’s had plenty of different teammates to integrate into the complex system.
Starting with their last championship team, he’s completed passes to 33 different wide receivers, 20 running backs, 15 tight ends, three offensive linemen and two linebackers.
But there have been two constants: Belichick and Brady.
“Coach is always pretty consistent with how he’s dealt with our team,” Brady said. “You don’t ride the highs and lows of the season. Whether it’s one win or one loss, you just try to get better and make improvements, and you’ve got to play your best at the end.”
Then there’s the simple message, “Do Your Job,” delivered repeatedly when Belichick speaks and when players see signs posted on their way to meetings and practices.
“When we put that slogan out there, I think that comes along with eliminating any distractions, eliminating any noise that is being talked about,” Wilfork said. “It’s more important for us now to just fall back on our words and do your job and if we do our job, we’ll be in a good spot.”
Belichick added veteran receivers the past two seasons and both made significant contributions.
Danny Amendola caught 54 passes last season despite being sidelined four games. Brandon LaFell caught 72 this season.
Then there’s Jonas Gray.
The running back started only five games at Notre Dame, was waived by Miami just before the 2013 season and claimed by the Patriots off Baltimore’s practice squad last January. In his fourth game this season with the Patriots, he ran for 201 yards and four touchdowns.
He, too, learned from the veterans.
“It’s the Patriots’ way,” Gray said. “They get you in there and they teach you how to work. You learn from the leaders of the team. You learn from guys like Tom and Matthew Slater. You just follow their lead and the next thing you know, you’re here at the Super Bowl.”
A much more significant offseason pickup who tried to knock down Brady’s passes in seven years with the New York Jets learned quickly what sets him apart.
“His desire to be so competitive,” star cornerback Darrelle Revis said. “I’ve never seen it. You could put him in the category of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, just some of the great athletes in this world and I’m talking different sports, too.”
On Sunday night, Brady will bring that intensity to his sixth Super Bowl, more starts in that game than any other quarterback.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I’ve been very lucky over the years to play on great teams.”
Teams that kept winning no matter how much the roster changes.
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