Perry: End of an era? McCourty, Slater reflect after Pats' home finale originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
FOXBORO -- Matthew Slater and Devin McCourty didn't spend a lot of tiget the App alert ready!me sitting down, getting emotional and talking about all the great times they'd had before Sunday's game against Miami.
Both knew it could be their final game at Gillette Stadium. But both also wanted to have something to play for a week later, meaning they needed a win. The reminiscing could wait.
"We're not gonna be all boo-hooing out there on the field," Slater said. "We got a job to do. Him and I are very close. We've had numerous discussions about what our future will hold. We'll just take it day by day and see what happens."
But that didn't mean the two veteran pals -- both captains since 2011 -- didn't take a few moments for themselves before, during and after their win over the Dolphins, 23-21.
"Yeah, I did," Slater said. "Look, it's no mystery. I don't know what lies ahead for me. It was definitely in the back of my mind that that could've been my last game at Gillette. I'm not saying that it was, but we'll see. But I did take time to pause and just appreciate my time here, and appreciate the fans, appreciate the environment. I feel like I've been the luckiest man alive the last 15 years. Just very, very thankful to have taken that field."
"I took a moment," McCourty said. "Spent some time with my family on the field. It's been a great run. To come out here, if this was the last one, I think to be able to leave Gillette with a win, very similar to how my first-ever game was a win, I've had a lot of fun.
"These guys have been awesome to go out here and compete with. You never know how football goes. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about it before the game, and just now. Give a high five to the Minutemen, something I've done over and over and over again after wins. Just kind of think about that, let that settle in, just trying to make sure I stay in the moment. Enjoy."
Slater, 37, tapped his chest in gratitude for fans as he trotted off the field. McCourty, 35, spent some time, as he often does, ribbing a teammate in the locker room for getting extra media attention. Slater said he noticed a sign thanking both he and McCourty, with giant cutouts of their faces. "With hair," Slater said happily. “I once had it!"
Both were able to leave what might've been their final game in Foxboro smiling. And both have left legacies. They're surefire red-jacket Patriots Hall of Famers, cornerstone pieces in Bill Belichick's locker room for over a decade. Each has helped the team hang three banners at Gillette Stadium. Each has made an immeasurable impact on the community they’ve made home. And each has done their best to impart what they can on the younger generation of players coming up behind them.
Kyle Dugger has morphed into one of the team's top playmakers as McCourty has helped him along through the early stages of his career. McCourty joked on social media recently that he would tell his kids someday he really was friends with Dugger.
Dugger said Sunday that he's the fortunate one.
"Dev, he's been huge," Dugger said. "Somebody for me to look up to, talk to, learn from. It's been a huge blessing for me to have him in that room with me. I'm super thankful for it ... I definitely look to take that, learn from what he's done, how he's led for so long, and continue to try to do it so well. I'm definitely lucky to have him in there."
Rookie special-teams ace Brenden Schooler seems to draw praise from Slater whenever Slater catches him out of the corner of his eye. The two have spent just a year together, but that's meant hours on the practice field and in team meetings, discussing techniques and strategies of their jobs in the kicking game.
Schooler idolized Slater in high school and college, but he found a humble mentor when he first arrived to One Patriot Place.
"I play for him every game," Schooler said. "I play for the guys in my room every game. I play for the offense, the defense, just to put them in the best situations. But with him it hits a little closer to home. You want to go out there and you want to make him proud because of the figure that he is on the team, not only in our position room, but on the team. He holds a lot of respect from the guys. So I want to go out there every week, every snap that we're on the field together, and give it my 100 percent because that's what he deserves.
"He kind of paved the way for guys on special teams. Carving out a role for guys like myself and other guys in the league. Giving less than my 100 percent would be a disservice to him. That's kind of how I look at it."
When Sunday’s game ended, Slater -- as he always does -- took to the center of the Patriots locker room and had eyes glued on him. Even Belichick's. "You know he was preaching," Jakobi Meyers said. "That's what he does best."
"Lean on your brothers," Slater told the team. "And that's what we've done all year, man. We've been knocked down. We've been talked about. We've been counted out more times than we can count. But we keep leaning on each other. And that's the only reason we're standing here right now."
Slater and McCourty have functioned as pillars against which the program in New England has leaned for more than a decade. They savored Sunday, just in case it was goodbye, stood side by side in the locker room for a final huddle, broke it down, and watched their teammates go their separate ways, with one more game left to play, uncertain of what's next.