FOXBOROUGH — There are few things more fluid than an NFL locker room. Players come and go on a weekly basis; coaches come and go, though usually less often.
Stability is rare.
But every day, in season, offseason, for home games and on the road, one man was always there for hundreds of Patriots players: equipment manager Don Brocher.
Before the news that Brocher had died early on New Year’s Day at 60, after a six-month battle with leukemia, the vast majority of Patriots fans had likely never heard of him.
If they’d scanned the sidelines during a game, among the dozens of team personnel it takes to make a game run smoothly, they may have spotted him: tall, with shaggy light brown hair, possibly helping a player make sure his cleats fit just right.
Brocher was always helping, for more than 40 years as a member of the organization.
“We all saw what changes were made on Monday throughout the league,’’ said coach Bill Belichick, referencing the seven head coaches and five general managers who were fired. “For somebody to be here for 40 years, doing the job that he did for so many owners, coaches, general managers, players, is really a tribute to his dedication, consistency, dependability, and the quality of work that he did.’’
Belichick was emotional as he spoke about Brocher, whom he called “Donnie’’ and some players called “Broche.’’
Devin McCourty joked that Brocher could be strict, asking whether he really needed this or that, things that Brocher deemed unnecessary but that McCourty wanted for a certain look or whatever reason.
“I’d go back there [to the equipment room] and he’d be like, ‘Do you really need it?’ and I’d say, ‘No . . . but can I?’ ’’ said McCourty, smiling.
He also found some comfort in Brocher’s constant presence.
“The biggest thing was he was always here,’’ said McCourty. “Everything he was about was Patriots football. I think that’s what makes this organization so cool — there’s so many guys here that are Patriots football and you see that, you see the tradition and guys like him that have been here through not just Coach Belichick, but he’s been here through many coaches.’’
Told Brocher was on staff for 11 of the Patriots’ 14 head coaches (plus a couple of interim coaches), McCourty said, “That’s crazy when you think about as a young guy and you come in here and you see so much transition in this league, for him to be in one place. I thought that was special.’’
Kyle Arrington recalled that as soon as “Broche’’ heard his name, he would look up with a smile and ask what was needed. And there were times, Arrington said, when a player didn’t have to ask.
In the colder months, Brocher would make sure packets of chemical hand warmers were in Arrington’s locker every day for practice.
“He just wanted to make sure everything was done and done in a timely manner,’’ said Arrington. “I can’t say enough positive things about Broche and the approach he took to his job and how much he loved it.’’
Brocher was with the team for all seven of its Super Bowl appearances. Last February in Indianapolis, he and his wife, Laurie, posed for pictures with every player; when McCourty returned to Gillette Stadium a few weeks later, Brocher asked him to sign the photo they were in together.
He’d done that for other Super Bowls, McCourty said, posing with the players he took care of every day.
Brocher was born in Boston, raised in Marblehead, and attended Beverly High School. His obituary states that hockey was his first love, and his childhood idol, like so many in this area at that time, was Bobby Orr.
He was hired as a Patriots ball boy on George Luongo’s equipment staff in 1972 and became a full-time assistant that year. He was promoted from assistant equipment manager to head manager in 1994, shortly after Robert Kraft purchased the team.
Brocher was diagnosed with leukemia last June.
“He was diagnosed in the summer, and it was a shock to all of us, but at the same time, after the first six weeks, after his first round of treatment, he seemed upbeat,’’ said punter Zoltan Mesko. “All the way till the end, he was the same. He didn’t really let you know what his state was. He was always energetic.’’
After longtime assistant equipment manager John Hillebrand left to run his own staff in Jacksonville, Brocher sat down with Belichick and said he was feeling good, that he was looking forward to a couple more years on the job.
“Six months later, here we are today,’’ Belichick said.
When the Patriots traveled to Tampa Bay during training camp for some joint practices and then a preseason game with the Buccaneers, Brocher did not make the trip. It was the first game he had missed in 40 years, snapping a streak of 834 games.
The last game Brocher attended was Dec. 16, when New England hosted San Francisco.
“I don’t think anybody really had a sense of the physical and mental toughness that he displayed that night just by being here and doing his job and being here for us in that type of situation,’’ Belichick said. “But that was kind of Donnie.
“He was never one to complain, never one to talk about how he was doing, he was just there to help the rest of us. We’ll miss him.’’