Explaining why I gave a Hall pass to these three individuals
|04.06.13 at 12:29 am ET|
One of the great perks of my job is the fact that I get to sit on the Patriots Hall of Fame Committee. A group that includes current and former media members, as well as former players and employees of the team, we’re charged with the job of creating a list of finalists for the public to vote on. The group met on Thursday afternoon at Patriots Place to determine who should be on the ballot this year.
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 2009 season. With that in mind, there were several names discussed, including former coaches Chuck Fairbanks and Bill Parcells; offensive lineman Leon Gray; defensive lineman Houston Antwine; defensive backs Raymond Clayborn, Fred Marion and Rodney Harrison; running back Ron Burton; and linebackers Willie McGinest and Tedy Bruschi.
The conversations in the room are great for a few reasons, including the fact that it gives me a chance to hear from men who covered players like Gray, Antwine, Clayborn, Marion and Burton on a regular basis and find out just what it was they brought to the field. I’ve been lucky enough to have covered the team since 2001, but there’s always more to be learned about the game and the franchise, particularly about the impact of a previous generation of players.
With that in mind, here were the three names that went on my ballot:
Bruschi: Honestly, despite the popularity of Harrison (as well as several other people who are eligible), it’s hard not to vote for Bruschi, even on his first time on the ballot. The linebacker was the face of the franchise for several seasons — he stretched across three distinct eras, working as a rookie under Parcells, developing as a key force in the middle under Pete Carroll and coming of age under Bill Belichick. There was a reason Belichick labeled Bruschi ‘The Perfect Patriot’ when he retired shortly before the 2009 season — his consistency and durability, his knack for the big play, and his connection with the fan base made him an easy choice in my mind to go No. 1.
Harrison: Harrison represented a culture change, the right player in the right place at the right time. (For what it’s worth, I believe he’s the best free agent signing of the Bill Belichick era.) It’s tough to remember now, but the 2003 Patriots started the year at a crossroads — the team cut the wildly popular Lawyer Milloy before the start of the season, and was crushed in the season opener by the Bills. The leadership displayed by Harrison during a key time in the franchise history — particularly among a group of young defensive backs — was invaluable. From 2003-2008, Harrison was one of the most instrumental parts of a New England defense that could boast several All-Pros, including Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Vince Wilfork and Ty Law. (One veteran brought up his absence in the 2006 AFC title game against the Colts as the ultimate barometer of his importance to the team. Whenever there was an important tight end on the other side, it was Harrison who drew the assignment.) Despite the fact he was busted for PEDs in 2007, I still felt good about putting him No. 2 on my ballot.
Parcells: I voted for Parcells last year, and I put him on the ballot this time around for the same reasons this time. Regardless of the circumstances around his departure — which were discussed in the room — Parcells was one of the most important figures in the history of the franchise, a transformative presence that helped make the franchise relevant. Along with the arrival of Drew Bledsoe and Robert Kraft‘s purchase of the team, Parcells was integral in helping make the franchise what it is today. In all, the Patriots went from 2-14 in 1992 to a Super Bowl XXXI appearance in 1996 after four years under Parcells. Good enough for No. 3 in my mind.
Two other names who just missed out on my ballot — call them No. 4 and No. 5 on my list — were Gray and Fairbanks. I had voted for Gray on two previous occasions for several reasons, including the fact that several veterans in the room said he was one of the best in the game at his position for several seasons. My own opinion is 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 ‘ one day deserves to join them.
I also have to note that Fairbanks deserves some sort of seat at the table. He has much in common with Parcells, right down to the fact that they helped build a terrific young team that fell short of the ultimate prize, only to depart on less-than-terrific terms with ownership. But Fairbanks — who coached the Patriots from 1973 until 1978 — was a trailblazer in many ways, particularly in his defensive innovations, which Belichick has discussed at great lengths on previous occasions. His ability to identify talent (he was in charge when the franchise selected Steve Grogan, Mike Haynes, Hannah, Cunningham, Mosi Tatupu, Ray Hamilton and Darryl Stingley, among others) and his coaching techniques made him a man ahead of his time in many ways.
The three finalists should be released later this month, and fans will be able to vote at Patriots.com.