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Thursday, March 11, 2010
Faulk, Neal feel Patriot pride

By Mike Reiss
ESPNBoston.com

Last year, a few months before he knew he'd be retiring, former New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi spoke with pride about playing his entire career with one team in the NFL's salary-cap era.

"I wish we saw it more. I wish we saw players who only wore one logo on their helmet, but that's just not the case," he said in The Boston Globe. "Even when guys leave here for the first time and go somewhere else, it sort of bothers me.

Faulk
Faulk
Neal
Neal

"Seeing Drew Bledsoe in a Buffalo Bills helmet for the first time, or Chris Slade in that Carolina Panthers helmet, or Willie McGinest in the Cleveland Browns helmet, it looks funny. I always consider those guys Patriots."

Few players follow Bruschi's path when it comes to the connection with a team logo, and running back Kevin Faulk and offensive lineman Stephen Neal are proud to be part of the fraternity in New England.

Both Faulk and Neal spoke Thursday about their new contracts -- Faulk signed for one year, Neal for two -- and what it means to be a lifetime Patriot.

One day after nose tackle Vince Wilfork talked about his hope to spend his entire career with the club, Faulk and Neal echoed those thoughts: It's rare to play an entire career with one team, and they feel fortunate to do so. That is part of the football legacy they will leave behind.

"I might have left and it might have been successful, but it wouldn't have been the same as if I would have been doing it here," Faulk said. "It's like what happened to Nomar Garciaparra. It's great he came back and retired a Red Sox, but at the same time, if he would have done it here, it would have even been better."

"In today's game, it's hard for people to sign with one team and be with them their entire career, and I think that's something special," added Neal, who actually had a brief stint with the Philadelphia Eagles' practice squad in 2001 before returning to New England. "I'd like to do that, and I think with this deal, I don't think I can play too much longer after two years."

Both Faulk and Neal, at different points of their careers, considered the possibility of playing elsewhere. Faulk acknowledged that some of those thoughts came within the past week as contract talks with the Patriots weren't moving in the direction he had hoped. Although he rated his return at 85 percent likely at the start of free agency, he still called it a "mind-blowing process."

In the end, Faulk accepted the team's offer, thinking of all the headaches that would have resulted from uprooting his family as well as his desire to stay with one team.

Neal was a free agent in the 2006 offseason and was hoping then that there would be a chance to play near his San Diego home so he could be closer to his family. He visited with the Bills, Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings in free agency before returning to the Patriots. Had the San Diego Chargers shown interest, he would have strongly considered leaving.

This time around, Neal told his agent that as long as New England wanted him back, that's where he wanted to be.

"I know when football is over, I'm going to miss the locker room atmosphere and having all the guys that you work so hard with together and you go out there and battle for three hours a week and all that time that goes into there," Neal said. "I think that's something I want a few more years of, going in with a good plan, because we always have a great plan each week with great coaches and a lot of players that want to do their job. I still want to be a part of that."

As early as his rookie season in 1999, Faulk had set a goal of remaining with the Patriots for as long as possible.

"You see a lot of guys that come and go in the NFL, that have been with one team for a certain amount of years and they've left and go make their mark somewhere else," he said. "But you never hear about a guy in this day and age that's been staying for a long time. It's just a fact of being in that organization, trying to uphold and be consistent."

For Faulk and Neal, it is mission accomplished.

The connection between them and the Patriots logo is as strong as ever.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.