I for one would like to echo the sentiments of the good people of the World Poker Tour and congratulate Richard Seymour for being a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist for the first time. And I have to admit, this comes as a bit of a shock to me. A pleasant shock. Like one of my kids making Honor Roll. But a shock nevertheless.
Not that Seymour doesn’t deserve it. On the contrary. He deserves the shit out of it. Last year when Matt Light was elected to the Patriots team Hall of Fame, I wrote that, as much as he’s a worthy choice, I’d put Seymour in ahead of him:
Seymour is the Socratic Ideal of the 5-technique defensive end in Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel’s old 3-4 defense and is in a photo finish with Ty Law as the best non-Tom Brady player on those 2001-2004 3-time champions.
The problem is I didn’t think enough people would agree with me that he’d actually make it onto the short list for the Valhalla in Canton. It’s not a Richard Seymour problem, it’s football problem. A Hall of Fame problem. Far too often guys like him just don’t have the what in Cooperstown they like to call the “back of the baseball card,” but what I’ll call the “Pro Football Reference page.” Look at Seymour’s and you won’t find a single number in boldface. You’ll see his three straight All Pros and his seven total Pro Bowl appearances. But you’ll also see that in eight years in New England he only averaged 62 combined tackles and 40 solo tackles per season. And didn’t rack up huge numbers with the only defensive line stat anyone seems to give a tuppenny fuck about, with just over 7 sacks a year.
But Seymour played a position that wasn’t about numbers, and he played it as well as anybody of his era did. In Belichick’s 3-4, defensive line was all about absorbing double teams, holding your ground, plugging gaps, maintaining your depth with the other D-linemen to prevent cutbacks, then letting other guys make the tackle and get their names mentioned over the PA system. There wasn’t much glory in it. And on the occasions they use it now, there still isn’t. Think of the way Leonidas in 300 explains how a phalanx works, every guy using his shield to protect the guy next to him. Without Seymour playing his position the way he did, and those dominating defenses would not have carried his team to four Super Bowls and three rings.
Which is part of the reason I love the way the football Hall of Fame conducts its business. Recognizing that not everything that makes a player Hall-worthy can be expressed in numbers, they have a bunch of guys go into a room and hash it out. And if they’re looking for someone to stand up at the conference table and make a case for Seymour, I hereby volunteer my services. I’d start my case with the fact that as a rookie, he made the most overlooked play in the most pivotal game in franchise history: The Snow Bowl. For those of you from outside of New England, I’m referring to The Tuck Rule Game. (What you call it all depends on where you live. It’s one of those Civil War/War of Northern Aggression things.)
Just before the Patriots got the ball back for the Tuck Rule drive that tied the game, the Raiders faced 3rd & a foot from the Patriots side of the field. A 1st down there and the Pats would’ve burned their final time out and it would’ve been all but over. But Seymour sliced through the line, blew up a block by the fullback Jon Ritchie and did this:
Here’s my half-assed attempt to screenshot it as he ran right through Ritchie to flip Zack Crockett over onto his skull bucket for a loss:
In the box score, that went as a tackle by Law and Tedy Bruschi. To me and my god, that was all Seymour. It wouldn’t be the last time Sey made a championship play while someone else got the credit. But his rings look just like everybody else’s. And without him, that first ring never happens and probably neither do the others.
To be honest, things didn’t end well for him in New England. In fact, they probably ended as badly as they did for any of the greats from this era. He felt like he was grossly underpaid. He held out or threatened to hold out for what seemed like years. He was getting savaged in the press for playing lousy when the truth was he was playing hurt and Bill Belichick didn’t want him acknowledging his injury, which understandably bothered him. And eventually got dealt to Oakland just before the start of the 2009 season for a 1st rounder two years later, a pick which ended up being Nate Solder. Which was not a bad haul, but still a lot of bitterness remained on both sides. And if he should make the final cut and get into Canton, it’ll be fascinating to see if he’ll have someone from the Patriots introduce him.
Here’s hoping we get the chance. The highest pick of the Belichick Era (6th overall) and arguably the best non-Brady Patriot of the 2000s. Make it so.