There are as many different ways to retire a multiple Super Bowl champion Patriots player as there are multiple Super Bowl champion Patriots players. Some get the press conference. Julian Edelman opted for sitting on a stool in an empty Gillette, delivering a direct-to-camera heartfelt farewell. Some settle for posting their announcement on Instagram, spending a year selling energy drinks and beach party tickets before getting traded to Tampa. Every one of these is done on a case-by-case basis. Each as unique as retinal eye scans.
And so last night for James White, the Patriots hung some curtains, packaged some highlight reels, brought out some of his teammates and coaches for a hero's welcome:
And above all else, brought out the two men who have known him best for glowing tributes befitting a true champion:
"Through all the success he's had he's remained very humble and kind," he said, while giving credit to White's parents. "His strength of character we know, he was a great ambassador on the field and off it too." And after pointing out that at one point in Super Bowl LI the Pats win probability was down to 0.04%, he added, “It’s the greatest message: Never to give up, no matter how the odds are. Think about it, we had a 0.04 chance to win and we won. It was a great team effort, but a lot of it was the effort of [White].”
“Those [2014 Combine] numbers weren’t too impressive. You weren’t big. You weren’t fast. You didn’t jump high, etc. But what those numbers don’t measure is intelligence, toughness, heart, teammate, dependability, and longevity. And that overrode all of what the other ones were. …
"It's been a great honor for me to have you on our team, to have your leadership, you're a role model for all of us, not just the other players but the coaches. Your work ethic, toughness, commitment to the team, something for us all to emulate and match… We'll miss you but we'll never forget your contributions and the standard you set for us. That will live on in those banners up there that wouldn't be hanging without you."
I just … I just can't.
RKK might be a titan of industry, but he always wears his mogul heart on his sleeve. Like every single day. Every time he walks onto the practice field or sees one of his former players on the sidelines before a game. So this is nothing out of character.
Belichick, on the other hand - and I'm not telling you anything you don't know - practices stoicism on the level of Zeno of Cyprus. Only when he wins another ring or one of his favorite players moves on to another phase of his life do we get to put the Grinch X-ray over his chest and get a measure of the size of his warm, glowing, oversized heart. So this is a moment to be cherished.
And of course, both men are right.
When James first announced his retirement, I posted a tribute of my own, and said the time to talk about him in terms of numbers would come later. That time is now.
After a rookie season spent redshirting behind Shane Vereen, White saw his targets increase at a steady rate, from 54 in 2015 to 86 to 123 in 2018, just one behind Christian McCaffery for most in the league against running backs. And his team's faith in him was rewarded, as he defined consistency. He was never more than a few percentage points above or below his career catch average of 74.6%, with his yards per catch steadily coming in at between 7.7 and 10.3. While giving them 4.0 YPA when he ran with the ball and 36 total touchdowns (25 receiving, 11 rushing) in his 95 career regular season games. Just the definition of the best ability of all, dependability.
But it was in the postseason where he went from super dependable, reliable third down back to future wearer of a stylish Hall at Patriots Place red blazer. And someone who his coach says is responsible for the last two banners yet waving above Gillette.
Virtually across the board, his playoff numbers exceeded his regular season numbers. Not by a ton, mind you. I'm not going to exaggerate and say he was David Ortiz come playoff time. But his averages from receptions per game to YPR to rushing yards per game to YPA, all went up in January and February. And by no coincidence, his career postseason record is 9-3.
The highlight of which, as Mr. Kraft pointed out was his transcendent performance against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Until time immemorial, whenever anyone is doing a list of the best individual games in Super Bowl history, that list is invalid if it doesn't rank this epic at or near the top.
14 receptions on 16 targets, 87.5% catch percentage, 110 yards, 7.86 YPR, 1 touchdown
6 attempts, 29 yards, 4.83 YPA, 2 touchdowns, 1 2-point conversion
Total points scored: 20.
Twenty blood points. All of which White scored in the last 17:06 of regulation or overtime. After Atlanta had built a 28-3 lead. He was the leading receiver - by far - on either team that game. And just two rushing yards behing LeGarrette Blount for the Patriots team lead, despite having six carries to Blount's 11. And being almost 50 pounds smaller.
In the end, White is just as Mr. Kraft said, an example of what you can accomplish if you don't give up. And what Belichick said, a fourth rounder (130th overall) out of Wisconsin who didn't have the measurables, but who became a true champion thanks to his immeasurables.
Finally, this will never get old. Until the sun goes nova and retires all of us, this will never, ever, get old: