ATLANTA – What a difference a year makes.
That was the gist of the message that Jason McCourty had for Danny Shelton as the two New England Patriots basked in the glory of a fresh Super Bowl LIII championship.
Last season, they were teammates on a Cleveland Browns squad that finished 0-16.
“Me and Danny embraced each other on the field after the game, just looking at each other,” McCourty, a 10th-year cornerback, told USA TODAY Sports. “We both knew.”
They know, all right. They’ve gone from the proverbial outhouse to the penthouse. Both were obtained by the Patriots last offseason in separate trades with the Browns.
“I remember being there last year,” McCourty reflected. “Danny’s locker was right next to mine. I felt for him. He was a young guy, in Year 3, and at that point had won four NFL games. And now to be here together, through the ups and downs of this season, being on the field as the confetti’s falling this is why we play the game.”
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McCourty also had the distinction of joining his brother, Devin, in becoming the first set of twins to play together in a Super Bowl. And he delivered one of the biggest plays in the third quarter of the defensive struggle, when he hustled to cover for teammates to break up a would-be touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks.
It’s no wonder that as Patriots owner Robert Kraft made the rounds through the locker room, passing out victory cigars, he had a special message when he stopped at McCourty’s stall.
“You’ve been an inspiration to all of us,” Kraft said, mindful of that 0-16 experience. “You helped us keep it all in perspective.”
Until this season, McCourty – who played his first eight seasons with the Titans – had never played in a single playoff game. Now he’s helped a team go all the way.
“Why make the playoffs if you ain’t going to win it,” he said with a broad grin. “This was the only year worth going.”
And it’s even more special to share it with Devin. The twins wore customized black T-shirts with gold lettering that read: “Mama, we made it.”
That message was a nod Phyllis Harrell, who raised the twins as a single parent after their father, Calvin McCourty, died tragically when they were 3 years old.
Harrell declared that if the Patriots beat the Rams, she would flop to the turf and make a “snow angel” in the confetti as a tribute to the twins’ father.
“She did it,” Devin told USA TODAY Sports. “She said one camera caught her in the act.”
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.