Tippett, Haynes reflect on today's NFL

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Tippett, Haynes reflect on today's NFL

FOXBORO -- It's a fun game to play, thinking about how the stars of yesteryear might fit into today's game. Would they keep up? Would they still be the game-changers they were in their own eras, when the game was so different?

Mike Haynes and Andre Tippett, two of the best defensive players in the history of the Patriots and Pro Football Hall of Famers, visited the Gillette Stadium press box before tonight's game between the Patriots and 49ers. Turns out, they like to play that game, too.

They answered questions about how much the NFL has changed since their heydays in the 1970s and 1980s. Though both agreed the rules have been altered to favor offense, they believe their own personal styles would have allowed them to succeed nonetheless.

Tippett, an outside linebacker for the Patriots between 1982 and 1993, finished his career with 100 sacks. He smiled when asked how he might have fared in today's NFL.

"I probably would've gotten more sacks," Tippett said. "Because of all the quarterback drop backs. I love it. You got these guys getting 100, 140 sacks, I tell people it's a little bit different now. Watch these guys with these outside linebacker tags and they're not really outside linebackers. They're hybrid defensive ends just rushing up the field. I played the game from a run-pass standpoint. I consider myself a complete linebacker that happened to be pretty good at rushing when I was called to blitz."

Haynes played cornerback in New England from 1976 to 1982 and then with the Raiders from 1983 to 1989. His eyes lit up when he thought about the number of passes thrown in every NFL game nowadays.

"They'll pass on every down," said Haynes, who had 46 interceptions in his career. "They'll pass to get two yards, they'll pass to get three yards. I think that makes it a lot more exciting for the fans and it would've made it a lot more exciting for me, too. I would've loved to have been playing."

Tippett and Haynes, along with Curtis Martin, will serve as honorary captains for the Patriots tonight to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Tippett has stayed involved with the Patriots since retirement and has become close with New England's current crop of linebackers: Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower. For all the changes the game has undergone, those three players remind Tippett of how linebackers played years ago.

"I love them all," Tippett said. "It's funny I can say this now, I love them all like my sons. I whisper in their ear from time to time, just to say, 'Hey keep up the good work, I admire what you're doing. I think you guys are playing hard. I think you guys are bringing it, putting it on the off people like it needs to be done.' It's a game of tough guys and it's fun watching those guys play. and I let them know that and I appreciate it."

Patriots pregame rituals: Step-by-step with the players on game day

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Patriots pregame rituals: Step-by-step with the players on game day

What goes through Dont'a Hightower’s mind in the minutes before he takes the field and lowers himself into a cauldron of collisions, pain and exultation?

Not a thing.

“I rest. I literally rest,” said the Patriots Pro Bowl inside linebacker. “I don’t do anything else. I sit at my locker, I don’t listen to music. I don’t do anything out of the ordinary. I don’t look at film, I don’t look at notes. I’m just relaxed. Calm before the storm. I’ve done enough preparing, I’ve done enough notes, I’ve done enough of that stuff during the week. If I don’t know it by now, I don’t know it. It’s not gonna help me last minute. It’s only gonna make me play slower.”

By the time an NFL team hits the field – in the Patriots case, runs out of a giant, inflatable helmet while Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” blares – they are primped, polished, taped and glistening.

But what is their day like leading up to that? I asked a few Patriots to take me through their game-day prep from wakeup to anthem to give me insight into what we don’t see.  

You can hear Hightower, Nate Solder, Alan Branch, Devin McCourty and Rob Ninkovich detail the steps they take to get game-ready. French toast is involved. So are naps. And sock preparation.

It all builds to that moment of theater that Ninkovich says is what players truly miss when they leave the game – that feeling of euphoria.

“When we finally get to run out, that’s the most exciting time in the world,” says Solder. “The crowd wasn’t there earlier when we went out there and all of a sudden, the crowd is there. Very exciting, very fun, especially with the guys you work so hard with.”

Says McCourty, “I always think when I run out of the tunnel to look up and say, ‘Thank you’ just to be able to play.”

Listen to them tell their stories here:

Belichick's game-day ritual: 'Try to coach and play good'

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Belichick's game-day ritual: 'Try to coach and play good'

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick was not in any mood to start revealing his behind-the-scenes pre-kickoff routine on game-days. The air of focus he's exhibited during his media-availability periods this week continued on Friday, particularly when he was asked about his Sunday rituals. 

When a reporter wondered if there was anything in particular Belichick does before a game, he initially said simply, "No."

A follow-up about superstitions was tossed Belichick's way next. He swatted that aside as well.

"Try to play and coach good," he explained. "Goes a long way."

There you have it. An easy-step-by-step guide on how to approach a game like a future Hall-of-Famer.