Buchholz heathy, ready to pitch in real games

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Buchholz heathy, ready to pitch in real games

DETROIT -- Sunday afternoon, for the first time since last June, Clay Buchholz will take the mound and pitch in a game of consequence.

"Yeah, it's been a while,'' acknowledged Buchholz, who missed the final 3 12 months of 2011 with a stress fracture of his lower back. "Going through spring, working to get to a point where I can throw consecutive innings, getting the ups and downs and pitch counts and everything, it's more of a relaxed state of mind, knowing that everything's fine."

"I don't have to worry about anything other than going out there and executing pitches and trying to help this team win. My thought process is that it's just another game that I have to go out and pitch.''

Buchholz was relieved to enjoy good health over the course of spring training. He was able to focus on preparation, just as he would any other spring.

"It was re-assuring through spring,'' he said, "with the number of pitches that I threw, that I didn't have to miss anything. Just going from start-to-start and day-to-day and feeling good about it -- that's what spring training is for. Hopefully, I can make every start from here on out.''

As far as Buchholz knows, there will be no limit to his workload.

"The last couple of seasons, if the freak things that happened hadn't happened,'' he said, "I had put myself in a position to (go 200 innings). That's my goal at the beginning of every season -- to go out and make your 33 or 34 starts and get to that 200-inning plateau.''

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.