|Why I gave these three a Hall Pass||03.25.11 at 7:34 pm ET|
For the second straight year, I was honored to be asked to be a part of the Patriots Hall of Fame nomination committee, which got together Friday afternoon to take the first steps in the process that will end with another former player or coach ending up in the Patriots Hall of Fame. Writers and broadcasters (as well as employees of the team and former players) were brought together to submit candidates. The committee chooses three finalists, who will be announced on April 15, and then fans will be able to vote on one inductee.
A bunch of impressive names were part of the discussion, including coaches Bill Parcells, Raymond Berry and Chuck Fairbanks. On the offensive side of the ball, there was quarterback Drew Bledsoe, center Jon Morris, offensive tackle Leon Gray, wide receiver Irving Fryar, tight end Russ Francis and running back Curtis Martin. On defense, linemen Houston Antwine and Julius Adams and cornerback Raymond Clayborn were also brought up.
The night before, I solicited some opinions on Twitter, but after almost 90 minutes of back-and-forth — and listening to some great debate — my ballot looked like this:
1) Bledsoe: I voted for Bledsoe for several reasons — the first overall pick of the 1993 draft had 29,657 passing yards and 166 career touchdown passes in nine seasons with the Patriots, and was a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback and a part of two AFC Championship teams. But more importantly, in the early 1990s, Bledsoe, in the words of one veteran scribe, was the face of the team during a very difficult time, a job he took very seriously. And he and Parcells teamed up to make the Patriots important on the NFL landscape again. In turn, that allowed a franchise that many believed was ticketed for St. Louis to stick around. In the words of Tweeter @WAD1980: “Without [Bledsoe] I might be rooting for the St. Louis Coozies.” There was also this from @IanMeropol: “Drew Bledsoe is the reason most Patriots fans between 25-35 become Pats fans — before him there was no reason.”
2) Parcells: In many ways, I saw Bledsoe and Parcells as a package deal. The transformative powers of the two helped deliver a jolt of respectability to a franchise that was coming off a three-year stretch where they won a total of nine games. In all, the Patriots went from 2-14 in 1992 to a Super Bowl XXXI appearance in 1996 after four years under Parcells. He departed on less than gracious terms, but his impact on the franchise is undeniable. He changed the culture of football in New England. On Twitter, the feeling about Parcells in the Patriots Hall of Fame was loud and clear — @CraigMacCormack said: “There should be no debate on Parcells or Bledsoe for #Patriots HOF. They LED the team to #SuperBowl. Enough said.” And @GR365patriot added: “I think Parcells turned around the Patriots! Bledsoe was good but Parcells turned the franchise around.”
3) Gray: I was open to a few different suggestions for the No. 3 spot, but I had voted for Gray last year because I thought the 1978 offensive line deserves more love (the New England running game amassed 3,165 in 1978, still an NFL record for rushing in a season), and with John Hannah and Sam Cunningham already in, I believed Gray was next in line for the honor. Plus, some of the veterans made an excellent case for Gray, which ultimately swayed my opinion in his favor.
Keeping in mind that any former Patriot player or head coach has to have been retired for at least four years to be eligible, who would you have on your ballot?
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