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Patriots notebook

Veterans are appreciative of championship shot

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / January 22, 2012
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While the Patriots have become synonymous with championships over the last decade, for many players, today’s AFC Championship game is a first-time affair. Only seven players on the current 53-man roster were with the team when it won the 2007 conference championship.

Add in Dan Koppen and Mike Wright (who are on injured reserve) and Deion Branch, who won AFC crowns in 2003 and 2004, and you’re up to 10.

Many players last week expressed appeciation for the opportunity to play with a Super Bowl berth on the line, though perhaps none more than veterans Brian Waters, Chad Ochocinco, and Gerard Warren, all of whom have played 10-plus years and never gotten to this point.

Waters was asked last week if he was having problems keeping his emotions in check.

“It’s not that hard because I’m not really a high-energy type personality person,’’ he said. “It’s exciting not only for me, my friends, my family - it’s really exciting. But really just trying to control the emotions really isn’t hard for me, it’s more hard for my friends and family and the outside world. Those people are really excited for me.’’

Special teams ace Matthew Slater was a rookie in 2008, so he is among the many young players reaching the conference championship game for the first time.

While Slater is certainly aware of the stakes, he’s been getting reminders from his father, Hall of Famer Jackie Slater.

“I got an e-mail every day from him this week, just telling me to really not take this opportunity for granted,’’ the younger Slater said. “He played 20 years and he only played in one Super Bowl. You realize that this is why we all play the game. Everybody has been brought here for days like this, to win games like this.

“He just keeps telling me, ‘You can’t let anything come between you and what you have to do on the field on Sunday. You have to be extremely focused.’ Obviously that message has been echoed around here all week. He knows what’s at stake, I know what’s at stake; we all do.’’

Family leave

Ochocinco left the team Friday night to attend his father’s funeral in Florida.

Ochocinco asked his Twitter followers Monday to send their thoughts to his two brothers because “our father passed this morning.’’

The veteran receiver did not have a close relationship with his father, who was imprisoned for nearly all of Ochocinco’s childhood. In September, Ochocinco said the two spoke, but he kept his father at arm’s length.

He was expected back in Foxborough this morning.

Mankins ‘closer’

One of the key players for New England today, left guard Logan Mankins, said this week his knee is “getting closer’’ when asked about his health.

Mankins sprained his left medial collateral ligament at the end of the first quarter Dec. 24 against the Dolphins, when he was lined up at left tackle for the first time in his NFL career. Matt Light’s ankle stiffened on him that morning, causing last-minute scrambling on the offensive line.

Last week against Denver, Mankins rotated out of the game for at least one first-half series and then was taken out of the game all together in the second half once it became clear the game was in hand. Ryan Wendell came on in Mankins’s place.

Mankins was limited in practice last week, but is expected to start.

Happy anniversary

Yesterday marked 18 years since the day it was announced Brookline native Robert Kraft would buy the Patriots from James Orthwein. Initially it was believed that the press conference that had been called for that day was to announce that Orthwein was moving the Patriots to St. Louis. Kraft, of course, kept the team in Foxborough, having already purchased Foxboro Stadium out of bankruptcy court six years earlier. Kraft and his son, Jonathan, attended the Bruins’ overtime loss to the Rangers yesterday at TD Garden.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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