For the last 13 years, Devin McCourty lived sports fandom from a player’s point of view. Appearing in 229 games as a starting safety and participating in three championship parades, he became one of the most prominent members of the New England Patriots’ Dynasty 2.0 — a player who saw it all throughout his career.
That career has now come to an end, meaning that McCourty will get an opportunity to become a fan himself. And he very much will embrace it, as he pointed out during his retirement ceremony on Tuesday.
“I’m so excited to watch the game of football and root this team on, and being one of those crazy, avid Patriots fans,” the 35-year-old said. “Living in New Jersey and wearing my Pats gear. I never used to wear my Pats gear so people wouldn’t bother me. But now, I’m so excited to wear all my gear so people hate me. And I’m going to love every minute of it.”
A New Jersey native who went to college at Rutgers, McCourty arrived in New England as a first-round draft pick in 2010. He developed into one of the NFL’s best safeties, a durable and reliable presence in the Patriots backfield, and a 12-year team captain.
McCourty left a lasting impact on the team and, by extension, its fanbase. That said, he acknowledged that there was some tough love at time.
“I think New England has a great fanbase because, because they don’t hold back. When I played bad, I got the, ‘I hope you tear your ACLs! I hope you get cut!’ I got all that,’” he said before also adding that the positives — and there were quite a bit during his time in New England — were celebrated.
“When you do well, the fans told you about it.”
McCourty’s relationship with the fans extended beyond his play on the field, though. An active member in the community, who continues to support several charitable causes even as he is heading into retirement, he noted that this aspect of his position as a Patriot left a lasting impression.
“Most importantly, when I think about the fans I don’t just think about my play,” he said. “I think about being in the community and fans not just being fans because they watched me on TV, but fans being fans because they got to be around me at events and do things with me. And now I look back and I can truly say I enjoyed every moment here — the good and the bad — because there always were fans.
“Some teams you go to games there are not many fans; the stadium’s not filled; there’s not this rush. We’ve been to those parades, there are young people that I meet now and they talk about how many days they’ve got to skip school to go to those parades throughout Boston for all the sports teams. They live by that, and I think this is a very unique place because when you play sports they don’t really care as much about the entertainers and the other famous people. If they find out you play a sport for Boston sports, then you are one of a kind; they love you.”
With his career now over, McCourty is looking forward to switching sides.
He will continue to be involved with the game on a professional level — he likely is headed into media after already having a few guest appearances on CBS this season — he will now also get to experience the game from a fan perspective. And he will be quite invested, it seems.
“I think one of the coolest things about being an athlete is the fans, they never go away,” he said. “Now, I get to be a part of the community, I get to come back to games, and being in the stands, and tailgating, and all of those things. So, I’m excited to not really say goodbye to the fans but to be able to embrace the fans as a fan. Now, we’ll be equals. I have a little knowledge from playing, but we’ll get to be like those crazy guys.”
That craziness brings its own expectations. And while they may not always be realistic, as McCourty himself understands, they are part of it.
“If Mac [Jones] throws an interception, I’ll be cursing Mac out on the field. If [Ja’Whaun Bentley] misses a tackle, I’ll be cursing Bent out,” he said to two of the players in attendance for Tuesday’s ceremony. “That’s what it’s going to be, because now I’m just a fan, I’m not their teammate anymore.
“I’m a fan, so that means they have to play a perfect game. Mac has to have four touchdowns every game, 350 yards. That’s your expectation as a fan. I’m looking forward to Bentley’s 150 tackles, five interceptions, three sacks and maybe two touchdowns. That’s what I need from him, and he’s probably mad that I said it, but I’m a fan now, so I’m excited to be a crazy New England Patriot fan. I’m going to give it all I got.”