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Why I delivered a Hall Pass to these three Patriots

04.10.12 at 4:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — One of the best parts about my job is the fact that on an annual basis, I get to vote as part of a process to determine the list of finalists for the Patriots Hall of Fame class. Players and coaches who have been retired for at least four years are eligible for Hall of Fame consideration, which this year, means any ex-Patriots player or head coach who retired from the NFL prior to the 2008 season.

This year, the annual meeting — which includes both current and former members of the media, as well as several other members of the franchise and employees of the Hall itself — took place at Tavolino at Patriot Place. This year, the focus seemed to be more on coaches, including one coach who was a finalist on last year’€™s ballot, Bill Parcells. Other names who were included in the back-and-forth who could ultimately make it onto the final ballot include coaches Chuck Fairbanks and Mike Holovak; wide receiver/return men Irving Fryar and Troy Brown; offensive lineman Leon Gray; defensive lineman Houston Antwine (a three-time finalist); and special teamer Mosi Tatupu.

In addition, other impressive names were on the list of potential finalists: running back Curtis Martin, defensive lineman Julius Adams, defensive backs Raymond Clayborn and Fred Marion, linebackers Ted Johnson and Roman Phifer and tight end Russ Francis.

As was the case in previous years, the discussion was interesting for several reasons, not the least of which included the fact that I had a chance to hear from several veteran media members about the contributions of players I never saw. I have covered the team on a daily basis for more than a decade and written two books on the history of the franchise, but there’€™s always more that can be learned, especially when it comes to those who were part of the team in the 1960s.

Then, there’€™s also the debate about how players would fare when matched up against those of a different era — for example, would someone like Gray, who dominated his position in the 1970s, be able to play at the same level in the 21st century?

Included on my ballot of three finalists were the following:

1) Troy Brown: In his first year on the ballot, Brown was a no-brainer for me. He didn’€™t have classic numbers, and was arguably the best receiver statistically on his team for two years tops (2001 and 2002). But in terms of overall contributions to the franchise, he has few peers. Like Tedy Bruschi on defense, the undersized receiver came to define the Patriot Way on the offensive side of the ball (and occasionally as a defensive back as well). A glue guy in the locker room and an unquestioned leader, Brown became a legend in New England. (Full disclosure: I am currently working on a book project with Brown.)

2) Bill Parcells: As I wrote after I voted for him last year, Parcells departed on less than gracious terms, but his impact on the franchise is undeniable. Simply put, he changed the culture of football in New England. He and Drew Bledsoe (who was voted in last year) helped deliver a jolt of respectability to a franchise that was coming off a three-year stretch where it 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. The coach and the quarterback combined to help make the franchise relevant on the NFL landscape and jumpstart an (almost) unabated run of success that continues to this day. On Parcells, one voter read a laundry list of reasons for why Parcells should be elected a finalist, including the fact that the franchise was last on the list in several categories when he first showed up (including season-ticket sales) and near the top in most categories when he left. There remains a question about whether or not he’€™s genuinely retired, but when it comes to his influence on the franchise, it’€™s undeniable.

3) Leon Gray: A personal favorite who also got my vote last year, Gray made it onto my ballot this time around ahead of others who I considered like Francis, Antwine, Martin and Fryar. I’€™m still a big believer in the fact that the 1978 Patriots’€™ offense (and the offensive line in particular) needs to get more recognition for what it was able to accomplish: namely, grind out 3,165 rushing yards as a team, still an NFL record for rushing yards in a season. Guard John Hannah and running back Sam Cunningham are already in the Hall, and I believe that Gray — who was New England’€™s starting left tackle from 1973 through 1978 — deserves to join them.

The three finalists should be released shortly, and fans will be able to vote at Patriots.com.

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?

Read More: Bill Parcells, Leon Gray, Patriots Hall of Fame, Troy Brown
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