McCourty: Keep believing, keep working

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McCourty: Keep believing, keep working

INDIANAPOLIS -- Millions of eyes are on the Patriots this week.

There will be a lot of talk about the pressure of performing on the biggest stage, under the hottest lights in American sports. More than a week after the conference championship games, people are rehashing who failed (Kyle Williams, Billy Cundiff) and who succeeded (Jacquian Williams, Sterling Moore) in the season's most crucial moments.

There's even more to see here in Indianapolis.

Every player on New England's roster is also being scrutinized as a man. Some fans don't care about what the Patriots do or believe when not wearing a uniform. Others do. While the week shouldn't be walked like a tightrope for fear of screwing up, it can be looked at as a platform for doing something good. For sending a positive message to those who hang on every word.

Devin McCourty knew exactly what he wanted to say on Monday.

"Just believing and working hard," he said. "I remember growing up, watching the Super Bowl every year and looking at those guys like they were superheroes. Now, to actually be a part of it, I'd just say keep working hard and believing in anything you want to do. That's what my mom preached at me growing up. No matter what you want to do, don't let anyone tell you you can't."

Maybe it sounds a little like an after school special. It's supposed to. Besides, McCourty was sincere.

For as tremendous a rookie year as he had -- 82 combined tackles, 17 passes defensed, seven interceptions, a Pro Bowl berth -- the totality of his sophomore slump has also been impressive. Almost every week McCourty had to stand and be accountable for missed tackles, blown coverage, and all the surrendered yardage. He was asked why he suddenly has such trouble finding the ball in the air. He was prodded about why, even when he was right there, he couldn't make plays on the ball. A late-season shoulder separation heaped on more doubt: Was McCourty damaged goods?

Through it all he's never broken down. Just as his mother taught, McCourty kept working and believing. That's why, as he talks about the Super Bowl, he can use the platform honestly.

It is all more than he ever imagined.

"I think any football player growing up, I don't know if you dream about this situation exactly right here, but you dream about being in the NFL. And you watch the Super Bowl and see those guys and think about how fortunate they are and how cool it would be to actually be playing in one.

"I don't know if you can actually visualize being there because to you, the Super Bowl is so far away, it's so unreal. To be a part of it is a blessing."

McCourty doesn't mind the expectant eyes. As a football player, he can manage the pressure. As a man, he's grateful to have the chance.

Backes introduces Bruins fans to his 'Athletes for Animals' charity

Backes introduces Bruins fans to his 'Athletes for Animals' charity

JAMAICA PLAIN -- David Backes probably could have opted to have his introductory press conference inside the Bruins dressing room at TD Garden, or maybe even in some finished part of the team's new practice facility in Brighton, which is set to open a couple of months from now.

Instead, the new Bruins forward met face-to-face with the media for the first time while taking a tour of the MSPCA and, in the process, introducing Bruins fans to his “Athletes for Animals” charity, a foundation that promotes rescuing -- and protecting the welfare of -- homeless pets nationwide.

Backes took pictures with a pit bull named Greta that’s been at the MSPCA Adoption Center for the last seven months looking for a “forever home”.

And as he spoke, it became abundantly clear that this is what the 32-year-old former St. Louis Blues captain is all about.

“[Taking a tour of the facility] gives you a warm feeling inside, and makes you feel like you’re already a part of the city while helping give some attention to the great work that they’re doing,” said Backes, the owner of four dogs (Maverick, Rosey, Marty, Bebe) and two cats (Sunny, Poly), who is house-hunting in Boston this week with his wife and 13-month-old daughter.

“Hopefully this will be just the beginning of our connecting with the community, and helping serve the people that are great fans of the Bruins and that will be watching us every night. [Hopefully] they’re watching us go on deep playoff runs year after year.”

Backes’ efforts with rescue animals gained national notoriety when he took time to help with the stray dog situation in Sochi, Russia during the last Winter Olympics. But the roots of his “Athletes for Animals” charity goes back to his college days at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

“The full story is that in college we wanted an animal or two, but it just wasn’t responsible because we were renting and the landlords didn’t approve," he said "We just didn’t really have the time or resources to support them, so we volunteered at the local shelter for the three years I was in school.

“When my wife [Kelly] and I moved to St. Louis, we wanted to connect with the community, be a part and use our voice to influence social change to do our part making the world a little bit of a better place. So we said ‘Why not connect with the animal welfare rescue community?’

“We absolutely love doing it: Walking dogs, scooping litter boxes and cleaning kennels. Let’s use our voice to kick this off and see what we can do, and it really just snowballed from that to then trying to tie other guys into it. It’s not limited to the animal stuff, but the animals that don’t have a voice, and the kids that don’t have a voice, really tug at our heart strings. We want to help them with this blessing of a great voice we’ve been given as professional athletes, and to really use that to give them some help.”

For these reasons alone, Backes is a great fit in Boston. The Bruins donate heavily to the MSPCA and were one of the first NHL organizations to come up with the Pucks ‘N Pups calendar, which each year features Bruins players and their dogs, or strays from the MSPCA, to raise money for the animal welfare organization.

To learn more about Backes’ organization, “Athletes for Animals,” visit http://athletesforanimals.org .