Nothing so perfectly illustrates how many great players have come through New England during the reign of House Belichick like the fact that they are capable of producing a lineup of Patriots Hall of Fame inductees like this one so long after these guys have retired.
Richard Seymour last played in 2012. Mike Vrabel retired in 2010 and is an NFL head coach. Rodney Harrison left for NBC after the 2008 season. For 99 franchises out of a 100, guys with their rings and their career resumes would be mortal lock first ballot selections for their team Hall of Fame. But the Pats have enjoyed a roster of greatness so deep that these three are all still on the outside looking in. Not because they don’t deserve it, but because the inductions of Kevin Faulk, Raymond Clayborn and Matt Light wouldn’t wait. It’s an embarrassment of riches.
And while a case can be made for any one of these guys, I’m going to stick to what I’ve said over the last few seasons of “Patriots’ Got Talent.” The player who most deserves to be in the Hall in Foxboro is Seymour.
Yes, Vrabel is a member of the Three Ring Club. He was an anchor on the edge of the Patriots defensive front for eight seasons, missing just three games in that span. He came in unblocked into Kurt Warner’s grill in Super Bowl XXXVI, forcing the bad pass that Ty Law turned into a pick-6 and started a dynasty. He had 11 interceptions and 48 sacks, including a career-high 12.5 in the 2007 undefeated season. He also was targeted 13 times as a tight end, catching 10 passes for 10 touchdowns including two in Super Bowls. He literally was THE guy of whom you can say “He was a threat to score every time he touched the ball.”
Harrison was obviously a great player before he came to New England at the age of 31. And as a controversial replacement for Lawyer Milloy at strong safety, he did nothing less than make All-Pro his first year, then win two straight Super Bowls in the best back-to-back seasons by a team in league history (34-4). In his nine postseason games with the Patriots he had an incredible seven interceptions, including the pick-6 in Pittsburgh that blew open the 2004 AFC championship game and handed Ben Roethlisberger his first career loss and his pick of Donovan McNabb to close out Super Bowl XXXIX.
But as exceptional as those guys were and in spite of the direct impact they had on championships in New England, Seymour was simply better. A foundational player who was vital to all three Super Bowls he won here. The prototype of a 5-technique defensive end in Bill Belichick’s smothering 3-4 defense that carried the franchise to those early titles. Argue Vrabel’s two-way stats and Harrison’s huge, signature moments and I can’t come back at you with a counter argument because Seymour wasn’t that guy. Had he been told to just shoot gaps and rush the passer, he’d probably have put up Warren Sapp-like sack totals. But he sacrificed his own numbers playing two-gap, swallowing up double teams, creating a deflector shield through which no ball carrier could penetrate, and allowing the linebackers to flow to the ball and make all the tackles.
Still, I will go to my grave never forgetting the stop he made in the Snow Bowl, on 3rd & 1 with 2:24 remaining and the Pats down to their final timeout, he flipped Zach Crockett over onto his head for a loss (see the 1:51:00 mark):
… forcing a punt that led to Adam Vinatieri’s game-tying kick. If the Raiders had picked up that yard, this little rocketship to the stars we’re still enjoying never gets off the launch pad.
I admit Seymour labored in the obscurity of the NFL trenches and isn’t as sexy a pick as the other two. But he was quite frankly the best Patriot of his era not from the University of Michigan. And since the two that went to Michigan will both get gold jackets, the least we can do is fit this Georgia Bulldog and two-sport champion for a red jacket.