FOXBOROUGH -- As fate would have it, Patriots first-round picks Vince Wilfork and Benjamin Watson shared temporary living quarters (Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza) for, to that point, one of the most important weeks of their lives, February's Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
"And to end up at the same place," Watson said yesterday after New England's two No. 1's met at Gillette Stadium for the first time as teammates for photos with owners Robert and Jonathan Kraft, "I told [Wilfork], `Man, it must have been good luck.' "
In getting to know each other (and each other's habits; both are snorers) during those days when potential employers get to know them, Wilfork and Watson learned they also share similar life philosophies. "I definitely realized how important family is to him," Watson said. "We do have that in common, because family is important to me also."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli love players to whom football is important, which makes Wilfork and Watson fine additions.
For Wilfork, his priorities are family and football, though, at times, not necessarily in that order. When it comes to football, Wilfork's family is his teammates, as his older brother, David Wilfork Jr., learned a few years back. "My brother and me got into it in high school, but once we got off the field, we were brothers," Wilfork said. "If you line my brother up across from me, he's the enemy. That's how I take it. We can be friends after the fact, but I have a job to do. My teammates depend on me and we're trying to win this game. That's how I take it. Afterward, we're back to being brothers, but on the field, I'm a different person."
Nor is Wilfork, he acknowledges, your average 23-year-old, which makes him different from the stereotypical Miami Hurricane. In other words, you won't find him in the club. Wilfork has a wife, Bianca, and two children, son D'Andre, 6, and daughter Destiny, 1. A native Floridian, Wilfork is cool with coming to New England because, he says, D'Andre "loves the snow."
"A lot of people, when they meet me for the first time, they can tell that I'm different," he said. "And I am different. I'm a family man. I enjoy my family and football. Anything else I would be doing is probably fishing or looking at film. I'm a sports fanatic and I love my family."
Wilfork cared enough for his Hurricane family to play in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl mere weeks after the death of his mother, Barbara, because of complications from a stroke. His mother's death came six months after Wilfork's father, David, died from kidney disease following a long battle with diabetes. He wears a photo of his parents from their high school prom on a chain around his neck.
"I know my parents are looking down on me right now and they're very happy," Wilfork said. "Especially my father, he would probably be in the [Gillette Stadium] stands somewhere already pretending like there was a game.
"There are a lot of people happy, especially after what I've gone through in my life. It would have been easy for me to just give up everything. The thing I love the most is football. I kept on trucking. I fought through the hard times. But these days are about being a New England Patriot. It's my first time up here [at Gillette Stadium]. It doesn't get any better than this. I'm so happy right now that I'm finally here. I could think back to when I was 5 years old telling my dad that I was going to become a professional football player, and the day is here."
His parents' deaths (Wilfork's father was 48 and his mother 46) taught Wilfork to treat each day as a blessing. He has a tattoo on one off his arms that reads, "One Life To Live."
"You're only in this lifetime once," he explained. "Life is short and you have to live it up. It just reminds me that you don't take anything for granted. You only have one life. That's the way I live. If I want to do something, I turn to my wife and tell her I want to do it. Now, she can turn back to me and tell me it's stupid, but it's up to me if I want to do it or not. I get a lot of support from my wife and my friends. I just don't go out on a limb by myself and say, `Well, I'm going to go and do this.' It doesn't work that way. I turn to my wife first and give her the thought and then we will discuss it between each other."
Watson, 23, and his five younger siblings weren't always as civil with one another. "You always had someone to fight with and someone to love at the same time," he said. "Me and my sister [Jessica, who runs track at Coastal Carolina University] would always go at it. We used to fight like cats and dogs. Now we're best friends and call each other all the time, love each other. You always have half a basketball team to play with. They, of course, look up to me."
Watson, a 6-foot-3-inch, 253-pound tight end from the University of Georgia who runs the 40-yard dash in under 4.5 seconds and can bench press more than 500 pounds, comes from an athletic family. His father, Kenneth, played football while his mother, Diana, swam for the University of Maryland. His three brothers and two sisters all participate in sports.
"God blessed me with great talent and good genetics," he said. "Plus, he blessed me with a good work ethic and a drive to want to be the best. I pride myself on leaving no stone unturned as far as being the most prepared that I can be."
In any situation. Watson recalled yesterday the only instance in which he talked back to his mother. He was about 13.
"I can't even remember what I said. My mom got on the phone and called my dad at work and told him what I had done. Then she handed me the phone. My father said, `Benjamin, be ready for a whooping at 5 o'clock when I get home.' I tried to pretend I was asleep, but that didn't work. I even wore sweatpants over my jeans so it wouldn't hurt as much, but I still felt it."