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ON FOOTBALL

Law has got it covered

Plan is to earn titles and spot in Hall with a new team

He spent the day playing with his daughter and beginning to turn the page on 10 seasons, three Super Bowl championships, and four Pro Bowls that suddenly had passed before his eyes.

For the first time since he was drafted in 1995, Ty Law realized, "It just hit me, that I'm not a Patriot anymore."

As a Patriot, Law might not have been Hall of Famer Mike Haynes, but he was awfully close. Both were great cover cornerbacks who could shut down one side of the field. Law made some of the biggest plays ever made by a cornerback in the biggest games.

A day after "the weight of the world" was lifted off his shoulders with his release by the Patriots, Law found the juices were flowing to jump-start his career.

"What motivates me now is to be the best corner in the game again," said Law. "I dream about putting on that yellow jacket in Canton. I feel I have a lot of great football left. I have a burning desire to be the best. I'm still young. I have a long way to go in my career, and when it's over, I'm hoping you [media] guys will think I'm a Hall of Famer, one of the best to ever play the position."

Law said he wants to bring the New England mentality with him wherever he goes. "I want to continue to win championships, not just divisions and playoff games," he said. "I want to go to a place where football is important, where the fans are just like they are here in New England. That's the thing as I sit here today that's really hit me -- these fans were behind us like nothing I've ever seen before."

At least his tenure did not end in bitterness, as it did with his friend Lawyer Milloy before the 2003 season.

We're sure it was pure coincidence that on the same day Law was cut, word was leaked that Tom Brady is nearing a contract extension.

The message seemed to be that other parts, while important, are replaceable.

The Patriots obviously feel they will survive the loss of Law. Randall Gay and Asante Samuel are emerging, and drafting a young corner or signing a veteran will only enhance their position.

A year ago, the Patriots absorbed Law's enormous cap number after a public contract squabble because they felt the time wasn't right to cut ties. In winning their third Super Bowl in four years -- and their first without Law in the lineup -- they proved to themselves it was the system, not the player.

Law's time was up here. He knew it. The Patriots knew it.

"I don't know what they were thinking, but I like to think that I add a great deal to any team I play for," Law said.

"I'm excited about another team being excited about me. I've gotten calls from guys all over the league saying, `Ty, you've got to come here and play. We can win with you.' Lawyer called and said, `You've got to sign here so we can be reunited and do this thing all over again.' " Yet he's saddened that players he's formed such close bonds with no longer will be teammates.

"I'll miss Willie [McGinest], and Tedy [Bruschi], and Ted [Johnson], and Troy [Brown], and guys that I've played with for so long, and even a guy like Rodney [Harrison], who in two years I became so close with," Law said. "I spoke to Tedy after he had his stroke, and just to hear the determination in his voice that he's getting better and wants everything to be normal again . . .

"Here's a guy who left everything he had on the field every time he played the game. I'm leaving great players."

He may be remembered here as much for his public tongue-lashing of Bill Belichick as he is for picking off Kurt Warner in the 2002 Super Bowl or the magnificent three-interception game against Peyton Manning in the AFC title game Jan. 18, 2004.

If people hold his honesty against him, that would be a shame.

If there was one athlete in Boston who talked the talk and walked the walk, it was Law. He knew he was good, he wanted to be paid accordingly, and he never hid his feelings about it. Nor was he ever dull. He loved the Boston sports microscope, and thrived in it.

Nobody could fill a reporter's notebook faster with thoughtful and relevant material.

On the field, he could tell his opponent he would shut him down, and then do it. Nobody worked more at preparing physically for his job than Law.

"I know how I've been portrayed, but I always just wanted fair market value," Law said. "The Patriots were willing to pay me that all these years, and I know it's a business and my number got too high. I know that people say they won the Super Bowl without me, but what about the other two?

"I think it's always hard to replace a special player. You can do it for a half-year or a year, but it's hard to replace a player who's played at a high level for 10 years. I know I gave them the best I had.

"I appreciated Coach Belichick allowing me to play the game in a way that allowed my abilities and talents to come out. That's one thing I'll be looking for with the next team I play for. I'll take a look at how they're going to use me."

His agent, Carl Poston, already has gotten feelers from several teams (the Browns, Jets, Chiefs, Rams, and Steelers among them), but right now Law's focus is on rehabilitating from a surgically repaired left foot, which he is doing near his home in Miami with his longtime therapist. "I'm a week away from the Tour de France," said Law about getting on a stationary bike. "I'm about a month away from any cutting. If I do what I'm supposed to and don't rush anything, I'll be 100 percent."

His final conversation with Belichick was full of respect and appreciation, just as he hoped it would be. He didn't want to be slinging mud this time.

"It was a great conversation," said Law. "We wished each other well. No hard feelings. We won three Super Bowls together. We both understood it was a business decision. Nothing personal. I know wherever I go I'll have spent more time here and have more fond memories here than anyplace else.

"That's just reality."

The reality is, Law was a big part of a football dynasty, but he will be replaced, perhaps successfully. But here's another reality: Ty Law was one of the best players to wear a Patriots uniform.

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