Valentine: 'I knew it was going to be extremely challenging'

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Valentine: 'I knew it was going to be extremely challenging'

BOSTON -- With his team off to a 4-9 start and finding himself involved in a few controversies, the first few weeks of Bobby Valentine's tenure as Red Sox manager have been, to say the least, interesting.

"I had no idea what to expect,'' said Valentine Saturday, when asked about his experience to date. "I mean, I had some idea what to expect. But I didn't have any way to prepare for these things we're talking about -- (injuries to Jacoby) Ellsbury (and Carl) Crawford,
(the demotion of Mark) Melander, (loss of Andrew) Bailey...situations that we've dealt with.

"I knew it was going to be extremely challenging and extremely eventful. And it's been eventfully challenging.''

Some New York reporters and columnists insist that Valentine doesn't have the same energy or spunk he showed while managing the New York Mets, and that he's already been beaten down by Boston.

"I don't know,'' said Valentine smiling at the suggestion. "Maybe instead of a two-hour bike ride (daily), I should cut it down to an hour and 45 minutes and I'll have more energy in the morning.

"They might have known a little younger version.''

Valentine has been booed at Fenway at times and late in the game Friday, a chant went up in the stands, "We want Tito,'' a reference to Valentine's predecessor, Terry Francona.

"It's expected,'' he said of the booing. "They like performance. But the fans have been great so far. People I've met out to dinner, on the streets, or on the bike ride or before the game, have been great. And when things haven't worked out during the game, there have been vocal reactions.''

Valentine said some fans have made suggestions about the lineup or pitching changes, "and I think that's great. That they're involved is a good thing. No one's yelled at me when I'm on my bike or tried to run me over or any of that (stuff). That hasn't happened yet.

"I go out every night. It's been kind of neat to feel the heartbeat (of the area).''

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'

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.

For more on Patriots pregame prep, click here.