The Newest Patriots Team Hall of Famer: Raymond Clayborn

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Credit where credit is due to the voters for the Patriots Hall because Raymond Clayborn winning out over Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel. This is a triumph of people doing their homework over only electing only the players from the championship era. Title bias is a natural tendency of Hall voters, especially in football. But these voters did the research, shook off the sort of proximity bias that makes us appreciate the guys we’ve seen more recently and made a good choice. By way of full disclosure, I would’ve voted for Seymour, the prototype of the 5-technique, 2-gap tackle in Belichick’s old 3-4. And the best player on those first three Patriots championship teams not named Brady or Law. But I have no argument with Clayborn getting put into Patriots Valhalla in Seymour’s first year of eligibility.

A brief history lesson: Clayborn was part of the insane wealth of young talent drafted by Chuck Fairbanks. In 1977 he was the No. 16 overall selection out of Texas, taken with one of the mother lode of picks Fairbanks swindled out of San Francisco in the Jim Plunkett deal. And he was a building block of what would have been the first Pats dynasty if Fairbanks didn’t lose his goddamned mind and quit on the team’s first division winner to go back to college ball. The team quickly disintegrated after that and within a few years was the worst team in football. Again. But it was despite talented, hard working ballers like Clayborn.

He was your classic four-down defensive back who is not only tied with Patriots (and hopefully soon NFL) Hall of Famer Ty Law for the club record in interceptions with 36, he was a huge special teams threat. As a rookie he set a team single season record with three kickoff returns for touchdowns. He could also blitz the quarterback as well as any DB they’ve ever had and arguably the best tackling corner in team history. He also has a weird statistical quirk of being the only Patriot ever with touchdowns on a kickoff return, interception and a blocked field goal. And the greatest single play he probably ever made was in 1984, just as the team was moving away from the Jerry Bruckheimer-like disaster that was the Ron Meyer era and turning the corner under Ray Berry that would get them to the Super Bowl the following year, Clayborn returned a pick 85 yards on the final play to beat the Browns at Cleveland, 17-16.

In all, he played 191 regular season games and seven postseason, including all four in that improbable Super Bowl XX season where he picked off Dan Marino in the AFC title game. He made AFC All Pro in 1983, ’85 and ’86. And while he even admitted he had a little angry punk in him early in his career, the worst thing he ever really did was get into a beef with Will McDonough in the locker room that lead to the old Irishman decking him. But in a time when the Patriots had a sign that said “THIS WORKPLACE HASN’T HAD A MAJOR ARREST IN __ DAYS,” a fistfight with a reporter was more likely to get you Employee of the Month than a suspension. And in the kind of thing that would never happen with the player-media dynamic being what it is today, Clayborn apologized and the two were friends right up until McDonough’s death.

So this is all good. Seymour and Vrabel will get their turn as members of the Three Ring Club. But for now congrats to the voters for seeing that the world might have gotten super awesome in 2001, but it didn’t begin then.
@jerrythornton1