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Patriots have 248 players since 2001 with ring stories



SportsPulse: From Radio Row in Minnesota, our NFL insiders give the latest on Tom Brady’s hand, Rob Gronkowski’s head and the mental state of the Eagles.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The Super Bowl just days away, and Trevor Reilly, a linebacker currently on the practice squad of the New England Patriots, sits in a folding chair 15 feet from his locker. He’s alone, away from the laughter and conversations and interviews.

But there’s an outlet, and he needs to charge his phone before a team meeting starts in 20 minutes.

Most fans wouldn’t recognize Reilly, who was active for six games this season and started one. But when James Harrison became available late in the season, the Patriots swooped on the veteran pass rusher and released Reilly, later signing him to the practice squad.

Barring anything unforeseen, Reilly won’t play Sunday in Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“My family doesn’t even know,” Reilly tells USA TODAY Sports. “Here—”

He produces his phone and cues a text message.

“Are you suiting up for the game?”

“I’m like: ‘Guys,’ ” he said. “ ‘Come on. Me and some of these other guys, we’re a rotating door.’ ”

But if the Patriots win, Reilly still gets a ring.

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A secondary legacy of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era is a long list of no-name practice-squad players, journeymen veterans and young players seeking a toehold who have earned a Super Bowl ring for their contributions.

Spread out over New England’s five championships dating back to the 2001 season, 248 different players have earned a Super Bowl ring with the franchise, as calculated by USA TODAY Sports with direction from the Patriots.

By comparison, the next highest figure of any team over that span is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 107.

“Man, I think back when I was a young kid,” former Patriots cornerback Earthwind Moreland told USA TODAY Sports. “I would watch guys and emulate guys in the backyard. Years later, here it is. I’m at (Patriots owner) Robert Kraft’s house and I’m accepting a Super Bowl ring. There are people that came before me, Hall of Famers, who have broken records. But this is one that I can say I have over them. One thing that they can’t take away from me.

“Would I have liked to have been a Hall of Famer? Absolutely. Would I have liked to have broken records? Absolutely. But I’m still a part of NFL history. I have a Super Bowl ring.”

Moreland bounced around the league with stints on five different teams in his first two years. Then New England signed him to the practice squad in September 2004. He rose to the active roster in November.

He played in nine games, starting two, and collected 17 tackles. He was inactive for all three playoff games that year, but the Patriots toppled the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.

Said Moreland: “For as long as I live, I will never get rid of that ring.”

Not everyone is so lucky.

Setema Gali was an undrafted rookie out of BYU who latched onto New England’s practice squad for the team’s first championship. He spent two seasons with the Patriots before ending his career due to injuries.

He returned home and ventured into real estate, turning a quick profit. But when the housing industry collapsed, so did Gali’s business. He sold his home, had his cars repossessed and filed for bankruptcy.

He put his Super Bowl ring up for sale and found a bidder. He flew to New York and met the collector. The ring was verified, and Gali walked away with an envelope stuffed with cash.

“My life’s amazing now, but, yeah, man, that was a tough one,” Gali, a life and business coach and author, told USA TODAY Sports. “It was tough to get rid of the ring. For about four years, nobody knew, because I was so embarrassed. But then in 2013, I just told people that I didn’t even have it anymore. I’m determined to get it back. It will be a beautiful story when someday I put it on my finger again.”

At some organizations, practice-squad players are treated almost as if they weren’t part of the team. In New England, they share the same locker room and often have their stalls placed near established veterans.

Offensive lineman Jamil Soriano, a practice-squad player on the Super Bowl XXXVIII team, said he was met with his surprise on one of his first days with the team: Brady introduced himself and knew his name.

“I’ll never forget that,” said Soriano, who serves as vice president of research for Ariel Investments. “I was a nobody who showed up the third week of the preseason.”

Gali recalled the time Brady threw a pick-six in a practice held at Boston College and, in frustration, tried to punt a nearby football on the ground. He whiffed and fell flat on his back. Just like Charlie Brown.

Said Gali: “Guys couldn’t help but chuckle.”

Buck Rasmussen, a practice-squad defensive end on the Super Bowl XXXIX-winning team, remembered an ongoing game of one-upmanship of players trying to arrive to the team facility earliest. First it was six in the morning. Then 5:30. Finally, Rasmussen showed up at five.

“The only other two cars that were there were Belichick’s and Brady’s,” said Rasmussen, now a territory manager at CertainTeed Roofing. “I’m like: ‘Do these guys sleep here?’ A lot of players have come and gone, but there are two constants. They just operate on another level, and to be a part of that, I’m just so fortunate.”

Rasmussen’s Super Bowl ring sits in a lock box. Soriano’s mother secures his at his childhood home. Moreland wears his on special occasions. For most of these players, seeing or wearing the ring often seems surreal, like distant memories of a past life.

There are traces, however, of the Patriot Way.

“When I work with people now, I bring what I learned,” Gali said. “There are so many parallels in strategies New England uses that you can incorporate in the business world or into winning in personal relationships.”

If the Patriots win, 35 new players will be sized up for their first rings with the franchise.

As receiver Kenny Britt, a midseason addition after his release from the winless Cleveland Browns, told USA TODAY Sports: “I came here for one thing.”

Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.

PHOTOS: Super Bowl rings throughout the years


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