Dane Fletcher has come a long way since his days at Montana State. That's not to say Fletcher wasn't a standout for the Bobcats -- he absolutely was. By the time he was finished, he'd won the Big Sky Conference defensive MVP award.
But regadless of what he did in Bozeman, Fletcher, now a linebacker with the New England Patriots, will live out every football player's dream when he steps on the field at Super Bowl XLVI 11 days from now in Indianapolis.
Undrafted out of MSU, Fletcher has worked his way into a regular role at linebacker for the Patriots. Late in their 23-20 victory over Baltimore in last Sunday's AFC Championship, Fletcher made a key play on Ravens QB Joe Flacco, pressuring him to force and incomplete pass. On the ensuing down, kicker Billy Cundiff blew a tying field goal and New England was off to its fifth Super Bowl in the last 10 seasons.
Fletcher missed some time midway through the season with a thumb injury, but has since come on strong. Since a Week 14 win over the Redskins, the former Bozeman High standout has made 29 tackles with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
I was able to corrall Fletcher for a phone interview earlier on Wednesday as the Patriots prepare to face the New York Giants. Here is a sample of what he had to say:
ON MAKING IT TO THE SUPER BOWL
"This is what you play for, but now that I'm living the dream it's kind of crazy. People keep asking if it's sunk in yet that we're going to the Super Bowl, and it really hasn't. In a way I almost don't want it to, because I want to stay focused. It's a double-edged blade. I want to enjoy the experience, but what's going to the Super Bowl if you don't win it? I'm going to keep that in mind and try to come back with the ring."
ON THE FINAL SECONDS OF THE AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
"I had just come off the field after third down, and I was mainly just mentally preparing for overtime. I had snapped my chinstrap and was getting ready to go out there for the kickoff or kick return. Then I saw the kick go wide and I was in disbelief. After that, we were going to the Super Bowl."
ON MAKING AN IMPRESSION IN THE NFL
"It's kind of a joke around here, still, as far as our linebackers go. We laugh about it. I came in here with about as big of a chip on my shoulder as a player can. I wasn't going to take crap from anybody. To become a player in the NFL you have to have confidence. If you come into camp without confidence, or if you're wondering whether you're going to make the team or not, you probably won't. So I came in, worked my tail off every day, tried as hard as I could and it paid off. I still come to work with that chip on my shoulder. You almost have to at this point in a career."
ON PLAYING FOR BILL BELICHICK
"I love him because he's as straight-forward as a coach can be. At this level you don't want a coach who is going to sugar coat anything. And he doesn't. He lays the cards out as they are. If you're not good at something, he tells you. Not everybody can play (for the Patriots). It's a tough ship and there's a schedule to follow and a certain way you have to play. If you don't, you'll be gone real quick."
ON THE IMPACT OF PLAYING FOR THE BOBCATS
"I got a lot of help. Coach (Bo) Beck couldn't have been any better. He helped me out a lot. My last couple years there I really wanted to learn how to break down film and understand different (offensive) formations. Most defensive ends don't worry too much about routes and covereges, but I knew if I was going to make it to the next level it was something that I'd have to do. Coach Beck really helped me understand those things. And now that I play linebacker, it's really important."
ON THE SUPPORT FROM THE MSU COMMUNITY
"Everybody's been great. Back home, I've got all the support. My friends, my family, all the alumni at Montana State ... it couldn't be any better."