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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Shortly before they charge out of the tunnel Monday night at the Louisiana Superdome, the Patriots will come together one final time in their locker room. All eyes will turn to veteran linebacker Junior Seau.
This has been the pregame routine since Seau rejoined the Patriots on Oct. 14.
"We all gather up, and there is a silence in the room, and everybody is just looking at him," said rookie defensive lineman Myron Pryor. "You're listening to him speak, and he's getting everyone going. There is a little chill down your back, a little sweat on your forehead."
|After playing for 40 snaps in his first two games this season, Junior Seau hasn't seen any game action the last three games. But he's still contributing.|
"Before every game, you have to get your popcorn ready because you can't wait to hear those speeches, let alone see his face and the emotion that comes out," added first-year cornerback Kyle Arrington. "It's really indescribable how you can hear it in his voice -- the emotion, the passion, the hunger."
Seau's return as an inspirational leader -- part linebacker, part pregame motivator -- is one of the behind-the-scenes stories just starting to come to the surface. Last week, rookie receiver Julian Edelman credited Seau as one of the main influences in helping the team overcome its heartbreaking loss to the Colts.
The atmosphere that the 40-year-old Seau has created in the locker room -- and the influence he has on players almost half his age -- apparently was missing before his arrival.
"I feel like he brought a new spark," Pryor said. "Just listening to him, getting the team pumped up ready to go, everyone gets in that mode, which we might not have had before he got here. Once he got here, it was a whole different story to have an older guy who has been around and doing it for a long time. We all have respect for him. It makes us feel like we're on top of the world when he talks to us."
In past years, Seau said he addressed the team in a similar fashion. Yet perhaps more than ever -- with the Patriots transitioning without veterans Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour this season -- Seau's veteran voice has been needed.
Seau described his motivational words not as something he prepares before delivering, but simply as part of who he is.
"What I say, you don't study, you feel. There is a difference," he said. "There are journeys and journeys behind what I say."
Seau's motivational role has been his primary contribution in recent weeks, as he has dressed but not played in wins over the Dolphins and Jets and a loss to the Colts. He is the top backup to inside linebackers Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton, but they haven't come off the field.
Seau, who played 40 snaps in the first two games upon his return, is OK with the role.
"I didn't come here to make the Pro Bowl; I came here to help this team win," he said. "Our guys are healthy, they're playing, and I'll be here to support them. When they need my services, I'll be ready to go."
Before signing with the Patriots, Seau had said he had six games left in him, so his limited action of late could be a way to preserve him for what the team hopes is a deep run into the playoffs. Yet even though he hasn't shown up on the stat sheet, his impact isn't overlooked by some of the team's younger players.
"He's somebody to look up to, a big encourager," Pryor said. "Whenever you're having a bad day, you talk to Junior and he makes your day a little brighter."
If it's not Seau lifting the spirits of the locker room during the week, it's his motivational speeches before games, the next one coming Monday night before facing the Saints.
"This is my first time experiencing a player doing it," Arrington said. "In college, coaches usually get you riled up for games, but here, everybody leaves it to Junior to do it for us.
"He's so selfless, you can tell he puts the team first, and that makes you want to go out there and play harder for your teammates."
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.