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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When the Patriots selected Devin McCourty in the first round of the 2010 draft, the pick wasn’t met with thunderous optimism.

But the 27th overall pick, who was initially viewed by some as a special teams player because coach Bill Belichick was touting his ability to help on all four downs, turned into one of the great leaders and ambassadors in franchise history.

On Friday, he announced his retirement.

From his fiery pregame speeches, to his clutch play on the field as a three-time Super Bowl champion, to his tireless community work lifting up those less fortunate, McCourty became a New England staple despite his New York/New Jersey roots.

He ended up loving it in New England, to the point that in recent years he said he’d never wear another jersey. But he also joked about the initial reaction to his arrival, which wasn’t the most welcoming vibe for a 22-year-old coming out of Rutgers.

The Patriots had the 22nd overall pick, and receivers Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant were there for the taking. But Belichick, who loves to wheel and deal on draft day, moved down two spots to pick up a fourth-round selection. The Broncos took Thomas, the Packers followed with offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga and then the Patriots were up again at No. 24.

Many were clamoring for a pass-rusher or the talented Bryant, only to have their hopes dashed when Belichick traded the 24th pick and a fourth-rounder to Dallas in exchange for the 27th pick and a third-rounder. The Cowboys then picked Bryant for themselves.

Three picks later, Belichick selected McCourty, insisting he would have been the choice at No. 22 all along.

Not everyone was buying what Belichick was selling. And while the franchise had experienced three Super Bowl championships (2001, 2003, 2004) under Belichick, the more recent seasons before McCourty’s arrival were filled with heartache: the 2007 undefeated regular season that ended with a Super Bowl loss to the Giants; the 2008 non-playoff season when Tom Brady tore an ACL in the season opener; and the 2009 campaign that ended with a stunning 33-14 home playoff loss to the Ravens in the wild-card round.

So there was a feeling among some that maybe the championship ways were slipping away. But the selection of McCourty, who was followed up by tight end Rob Gronkowski in the second round of the draft, was a catalyst to the second decade of the team’s championship run (five Super Bowl appearances, three titles).

Belichick has said McCourty’s intelligence was a critical ingredient that allowed the Patriots to play defense the way they wanted. And as McCourty’s final game showed — when he registered an interception, an end zone pass breakup, a fumble recovery and five tackles in a 35-23 loss to the Bills – he still had plenty to offer on the field.

Since that game, McCourty said he was waging a mental battle about whether to return for a 14th season.

“It’s always tough to come to the end,” he said in his retirement statement. “This whole offseason has been so much back and forth for me mentally, but ultimately I think this is the best decision for me, for my family, and my career.”

Now that he has announced his retirement, the tributes to what he has meant to the team and region have been plentiful.

A remarkable, contrasting bookend to how it all began.

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Devin McCourty retires as one of Patriots’ great leaders, ambassadors – New England Patriots Blog