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.

Clayborn beats out Seymour, Vrabel to enter Patriots Hall of Fame

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Clayborn beats out Seymour, Vrabel to enter Patriots Hall of Fame

Raymond Clayborn has been voted into the Patriots Hall of Fame, beating out both Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour for the honor. The corner, who is tied for the franchise record for interceptions with Ty Law (36), will be the 26th person inducted to the Hall. 

Clayborn was a three-time Pro Bowler (1983, 1985, 1986) during his 13-year Patriots career from 1977 through 1989. He was drafted by the Patriots in the first round (16th overall) out of Texas in 1977, and chipped in both in the secondary and as a kick returner. As a rookie in the return game, he averaged 31 yards per return and brought back three for touchdowns. 

Clayborn reacted to the news on Twitter soon after the announcement was made. 

"I was fortunate to be a season ticket holder during Raymond's entire Patriots career," Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft said in a statement. "For the first half of his career, he teamed with Michael Haynes to form one of the best corner tandems in league history. Throughout his career, Raymond was a physical, shutdown corner.

"One of my favorite memories was watching the 1985 team advance to the Super Bowl after Raymond helped us break the Orange Bowl curse when he stymied future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino with a dominant performance against Pro Bowl receivers Mark Duper and Mark Clayton. Raymond had six passes defensed and an interception to help us claim our first conference title. It was the greatest upset victory in franchise history at the time and one the entire New England region celebrated. It is a well-deserved honor and I look forward to presenting him his hall of fame jacket."

Clayborn has been a finalist for each of the last four years but was not able to generate enough support in the annual online vote to beat out Ty Law (2014 inductee), Willie McGinest (2015) or Kevin Faulk (2016). Clayborn was eligible to be voted in by the senior committee since he's now been retired for 25 years, but he did not receive the requisite eight of 10 senior committee votes to be elected in that way. 

As it turns out, he didn't need to be. When Kraft called Clayborn with the news, he said Clayborn received over 40 percent of the vote to beat out the pair of three-time Super Bowl champs.