Down Shift

Originally Published: January 19, 2004
By Shaun Assael | ESPN The Magazine

The further the Patriots advanced in the playoffs, the more action Richard Seymour saw away from the ball. Pokes in the eye. Fingers jabbed into the gut, then twisted up into ribs. Punches in the stomach. Slaps to the helmet.

How, he's asked, does he keep his cool? The 310-pound defensive lineman pauses for a moment, looking confused. "No, no," he says. "That was the stuff I did."

Seymour, a 6-foot-6 South Carolina native, is wearing a T-shirt that reads "Homeland Defense." Appropriate, since the Patriots were 10-0 at Gillette Stadium this season, including their 24-14 win in the AFC championship game against the Colts. Still, the feeling lingers that the NFL's seventh-ranked defense isn't that super. "It sickens me that we lost to them," said Tennessee guard Zach Piller, after the Pats beat the Titans 17-14 in the divisional round of the playoffs. "I will not leave this stadium thinking we got beat by a better team."

Sickens him? Upon hearing this, Seymour cuts the air with the humongous hands that blocked two field goals this season (one against Tennessee), trying to keep his heart rate down to a Bill Belichick-friendly beat. "The higher you get up the mountain," he says, "the harder the wind blows."

• Senior writer for ESPN The Magazine
• Author of "Wide Open: Days and Nights on the NASCAR Tour"; the New York Times best-selling "Sex, Lies and Headlocks"; and "Steroid Nation"

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