Ty Law: 'I'm a Patriot until I die'

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Though cornerback Ty Law didn't have the feel-good end to his New England Patriots career that others enjoyed, he now sees things coming full circle.

When he's honored with the football legacy award at The Tradition at TD Garden on Tuesday night, it will be a retirement party of sorts.

"No matter what uniform I ever played in, I'm going to always bleed the red, white and blue. I'm a Patriot until I die," Law said Monday. "The Jets, Kansas City and Denver Broncos, those were pit stops in my career. I just want to let the fans know I didn't forget. This is where it all started; this is where it's all going to end."

Law's work from 1995 to 2004 puts him in the discussion when it comes to the greatest cornerbacks in franchise history. His 36 regular-season interceptions tie for the top spot all time with the Patriots, although it was his work in the postseason -- the interceptions of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and a second-quarter pick returned 47 yards for a touchdown in the Super Bowl XXXVI upset of the St. Louis Rams -- that truly defined his time with New England.

He was a big-time, big-game performer, one who made little secret of his desire for big money.

Yet when it comes to being on the big stage Tuesday night along with Larry Bird, Micky Ward, Bobbi Gibb, Mike Lowell and Willie O'Ree at the 10th annual The Tradition, Law will be in a spot he wasn't expecting.

"I'm never too much at a loss for words, but I'm at a loss for words now," he said. "Out of all the great players I played with here, the guys that were before me, it's very humbling. To be there on the 10th anniversary with the great Larry Bird, and you chose me? Really?

"I'm honored, because this was totally, totally unexpected. There are so many other great players they could have chosen, and to choose me, it was special."

Law will be presented by Patriots owner Robert Kraft. No truth to the rumor they were practicing new moves to recreate their "who could ever forget it?" dance at the team's first Super Bowl parade.

"He gave me the opportunity to be here," the 37-year-old Law said of Kraft. "He had just purchased the team the year before, and I was his second first-round draft choice. I know it meant a lot to him, I know I meant a lot to him, from the time he gave them the OK.

"I would not want anybody else to present for me, because nobody else has that significance to making this all happen. None of this would be possible if it weren't for Mr. Kraft saying, 'This guy checks out.' I know how careful Mr. Kraft is about his background checks and character checks; I knew he was putting a lot of stock into drafting me."

It's easy to forget now that Law's selection, 23rd overall in the 1995 draft, wasn't exactly met with overflowing excitement in New England. There were questions surrounding Law's speed and whether he'd be able to run with some of the top-flight receivers in the NFL.

Law admits he wasn't the fleetest of foot, so he adapted his style of play and later became one of the elite corners in the game. Turns out his game, a physical brand that often punished receivers at the line of scrimmage, stood the test of time.

"I might have played it rough but I didn't cheat and didn't take any shortcuts," Law said, when asked how he'd like to be remembered by New England fans. "I was a player that gave his all, no matter what. I played injured a lot, I didn't make excuses and I played the game the right way."

Law lasted 15 seasons, suiting up for the Jets (2005, 2008), Chiefs (2006, 2007) and Broncos (2009) after a Patriots run that included three Super Bowl championships and a public dispute with management about his contract at the end of his stay. Law said he had multiple opportunities to play a 16th season in 2010, but while there are still days he craves the unmatchable feeling of competing on Sundays, his body told him to shut it down for good.

He said the coverage he's most focused on now is being a dad, which is why he was taking his son to a dentist appointment Monday and later karate practice. Law also is focusing on business interests such as real estate in Atlanta, where he owns three hotels, and a possible franchise with Popeyes. He does broadcasting work part time, splitting his time between New England and Florida.

At this time of reflection, Law was asked for a fondest memory from his time as a Patriot. He went back to the beginning.

"I would have to say it's just being drafted. That is always going to stick out in my mind," Law said. "I don't think people had really high expectations for me at the time, but it was special to me, it was special to my family when I got that call from Nancy [Meier], and when I came in and held up that No. 24 jersey with Mr. Kraft.

"That was the start of something special for me, the first time I was able to hold up that No. 24 jersey and say, 'I've arrived, I'm in the NFL, now I just have to go prove myself,' which was the easy part."

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.