After waiting 10 years, Jason McCourty could not contain his exhuberance.
Last Sunday, McCourty realized what had to seem like an impossible dream for most of his NFL career, when his New England Patriots took a 37-31 overtime victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, heading back to the Super Bowl when Rex Burkhead reached the end zone on the first possession of overtime.
“I don’t know if there is a word to describe the actual feeling,” McCourty said. “I remember that drive, one of our rookie corners was sitting there on the bench, and he was asking me about the overtime rules. He said, ‘What happens if we score a touchdown?’ I told him, ‘If we score a touchdown here, you’re going to see me sprint onto that field and be screaming for joy.’ And that’s exactly what I did. Not only for my NFL career, the 10 years I have of not making the playoffs, then finally making the playoffs, and making it to the Super Bowl.”
For McCourty, what seemed like an impossibility, is now a reality. McCourty spent eight seasons with the Tennessee Titans as a solid cornerback, toiling on some mediocre (and even a couple of dismal) teams, never sniffing the playoffs before the team released him after the 2016 season.
Last year, McCourty got even further from the Super Bowl, in fact about as far away as you could get, spending 2017 with the winless Cleveland Browns.
But before this season, McCourty was dealt to the Patriots, where his twin brother Devin has been a mainstay in the New England secondary for nine seasons. McCourty thinks about his career and being reunited with his brother, and says it could have only happened by the grace of God.
“You think back to when you first started playing football and me having a twin brother. I remember us playing Pop Warner Football and waking up early, getting ready for the game and going over our plays. I think that that point never could we have dreamed – we’d always say we hoped we could make it to the NFL, that would be a dream come true,” McCourty said. “But I don’t even think at that point that we were even thinking of the thought that we’ll go to the NFL We’ll play the majority of our careers separate, and get there close to the end, we’ll link back up and make it to a Super Bowl. It’s just amazing and we’re just blessed. I just look at what it took to get from that point to get to this point, and you just know that God has had his hand His hand in it, and He’s just written this thing all out for us, and it’s just been an amazing journey throughout.”
McCourty said the reunion has certainly made things easier for his mother, Phyllis Harrell, who for years wore a jersey that was half Patriots for Devin and half Titans (and later Browns) for Jason. Now, she dons a Patriots jersey that his half navy blue or the home Patriots jersey and half white for the road jersey. It also has made things easier in family matters, too. But he said early on, he knew his brother was a little anxious, hoping he would do well.
“The family was able to spend Christmas and Thanksgiving together It’s special from that standpoint, and the things that we’ve been able to accomplish on the field have made it even better. To be able to spend your whole life with someone talking about it, and now you’re living it, for him it’s been incredible. I know for him, he was really nervous and anxious when I first got here,” McCourty said. “He was a guy that’s been here. He’s established, and your brother comes in, you hope everything works out for him to succeed. And I think it’s been cool for both of us throughout the season to be there for one another through the adverse situations, the ups and downs and just being able to lean on each other. Him and all the other guys in that locker room have all kind of heard my testimony of my journey. I think that’s what makes getting to this point special, not only a bond between me and Dev, but there’s a ton of different bonds throughout that entire locker room of guys knowing what another guy has been through or much these moments mean to one another.”
Joining the Patriots means McCourty has immersed himself in the so-called Patriot Way of head coach Bill Belichick. When asked to define that, he said it is difficult to pinpoint, but comes down to everyone buying in to the culture.
“That’s been the one question I guess that whenever you come here from a different team, that’s what everybody wants to ask you, what’s the secret. I don’t really know what it is. I know for me what I’ve admired most since I’ve been here is just the ability for an organization under one roof to all be moving in the same direction, with the same goal in mind,” he said. “There’s not a single person in this building who has strayed off the path or is unsure what is expected of them. Everybody in the building sees one goal, sees one way how to do it and everybody is moving in that one direction.
“That just gives you a fighting chance. I think beyond that, it’s no different that any other team I’ve ever been on. You work extremely hard, you prepare and you go out on Sundays and you execute. Here, everything is built tough. Everybody knows how to do things and what needs to be done. The culture was built so that guys come in, drafted, vets, whoever, you come in and you fit right in. You look at the guy to your left or your right and everybody is moving on that same path.”
Another aspect of that was the way the Patriots continued to push forward even the face of ups and downs and uncharacteristic losses, such as the 34-10 drubbing the Titans handed them in November.
“The amazing thing is I don’t feel like there were any points where anything changed. The one thing that has been here that has been awesome about this journey to get to the Super Bowl has been our ups and downs,” McCoury said. “We started the season at Houston at home. For me, that was the first game I won since we beat Kansas City when I was in Tennessee in Kansas City, because I got hurt and didn’t finish the last two games when we beat Houston at home. So for me, it had been a long time since I had gotten a victory, and I was just excited and like, ‘All right, here we go. This is how things go here.’
“But then we lose our next two games on the road, and in that moment, it was like, ‘We’ve got to turn this thing around. We’ve got to figure this thing out.’ There was no one saying, ‘The offense isn’t doing that or the defense can’t get a stop or special teams sucks.’ It was like, this is what we’ve got. How do we figure this out?
“And we get on a streak and we start winning until we go to Nashville and we lose. It was like, we didn’t play our best ball. Why didn’t we play our best ball? We have a bye week. We figured it out, go to New Jersey and play the Jets, get things rolling a little bit better. Then we’ve got a chance to clinch the division, we lose on the road to Miami and Pittsburgh. It was, ‘All right, we’ve been down this road before. We’ve been in adverse situations. We’ve lost two before on the road.’ We just know we’ve got to come back. We’ve got to practice a little harder. We’ve got to do this a little harder. And that’s been the entire season. It doesn’t matter what bumps in the road we’ve hit. Guys have just come back and gone to work and there’s not a big talk about where we’re going to be at the end of the season. It’s like we’ve got to win this next one. We got rolling, won two more at home and into the playoffs. The one thing that Bill always says around here is come Sunday whatever team plays the best and executes the best will win. There’s nothing more to it. That’s it. It’s football and that’s how you win games.”
McCourty said he still has plenty of friends from his Titans days, and many were quick to reach out to him after he obtained his long-awaited goal of not only reaching the postseason, but playing for a championship on Sunday in Atlanta against the Los Angeles Rams.
“There were quite a few people that I’ve talked to not only throughout this season, but since I’ve left, from players, the guys that I played with like Case (Jurrell Casey), Rak (Brian Orakpo), Wood (Wesley Woodyard), Dmorg (Derrick Morgan) and different guys, like Robbie (Bohren) and Puff (Jared Puffer) from community relations and media guys have talked to me as well. A lot of the guys I played with – I’m always talking to Chris Hope, Cortland Finnegan, Vern (Alterraun Verner), Griff (Michael Griffin). You spend eight years in one place, there’s always a ton of connection that I made that I’ll have for the rest of my life,” McCourty said.
McCourty is also grateful for the fans who supported him for eight seasons while he was a Titan, adding, “The people of Nashville will forever be in my heart.”
After waiting 10 years, Jason McCourty could not contain his exhuberance.