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Phifer still has that old touch

FOXBOROUGH -- They call him "O.G." -- for Old Guy -- and what can Roman Phifer do but laugh? There's no retort for a guy playing inside linebacker at an age, 36, when a lot of guys are coaching their kids' soccer games.

Not that Phifer won't be doing that at some point, but four years after he seriously thought of hanging them up, he's still around, filling an important role in the Patriots' linebacker rotation.

He can still bang with the best of them, though perhaps on a more limited basis.

"I feel good, healthy, taking one day at a time, basically," he said.

Phifer doesn't have many secrets to longevity, except for a strong spiritual base. Everything else evolves from there.

Since he started playing football at age 8, his parents have prayed for him every time he stepped on the field, asking God to protect him from major injury. The prayers have been answered, as Phifer's body has held up into his 14th season.

In fact, he has played in all 16 games in nine of those seasons. His teammates will say there might not be a better-conditioned player among them. Phifer spends a lot of time in the weight room, and since late last season, he has been coming in on the usual Tuesday days off so he can work on getting loose and won't be so sore by the time Wednesday practice rolls around.

Since he began that routine, his body feels refreshed again.

"I try to feel that way, but some days are better than others," he said. "I come in on my day off now, and whatever bumps and bruises I have, I try to take care of them rather than sitting doing nothing on my day off. I try to do some soaking in the whirlpool, try to do some running so I can get the lactic acid out, stretching to keep my muscles fluid and loose."

Playing inside linebacker, after years of being an outside linebacker, requires more physicality from Phifer. He was once considered one of the best cover linebackers and he could always rush the passer. Now he's mostly a run-stuffer, rotating with Ted Johnson and sometimes Tedy Bruschi. He started the first game against Indianapolis over Johnson, but in Game 2 against the Cardinals, he was used in nickel packages.

Moving inside took some getting used to. Most older guys don't want to risk life and limb there. Not Phifer.

"Actually, I kind of like it a lot better," Phifer said. "I never really experienced it, but now that I'm in there, I kind of like it better. It's a better view of things rather than just being on one side or the other. You get to be in the middle and you get to go both ways.

"It's more physical, I'll tell you that. I like that. It gets you going. It's a little more demanding physically but I like the challenge of it."

Not that there aren't days when when he wonders what he's still doing in uniform.

"Yeah, some days I wake up and say, `What am I doing?' " he said. "But when you get around the guys and you win, you have success, it's such a great thing. It's hard to really substitute that as far as the feeling that you get when you see your kids and they know what you do. It's a great feeling."

Indeed, one consideration that always tugs at him are his children. For his first three years here, Phifer would commute home to Los Angeles to see his son.

"I don't have to commute as much as I used to," said Phifer, who would often leave for the West Coast after games and return in time for Wednesday practice. "One of my sons is going to school out here during the season so I've been able to cut back on some of my commuting a little bit. Plus, I have a new addition and it's tough to travel when you have little kids."

"O.G." is well-respected in a locker room of stand-up players. Phifer gives his insights to anyone who asks. Tully Banta-Cain is certainly a Phifer protege. Phifer is also fond of young Eric Alexander.

"Anyone who has a problem or just wants to talk, I'm here," Phifer said. "I've seen a lot of things. I know people always have questions about my longevity and how I do it. I'm glad to offer advice, tips, what have you, to them."

What does he tell them?

"That I'm having a good time. I still feel like a kid. That's part of what keeps me yearning, having these young guys come in and just bonding with them and see yourself when you were 21 or 22, try to sit down with them and try to give them wisdom and try to be a role model for them."

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