I'm spending 50 days ranking the top 50 players of the Bill Belichick Era, from No. 50 down to No. 1. (Click here for a criteria on how I made my selections.)
Today we reach . . . .
NUMBER 7: TY LAW
Years With Patriots: 1995-2004 (2000-04 under Belichick)
Games: 141 (69 under Belichick)
Playoff Games: 12 (6 under Belichick)
Honors: Super Bowl Champion (2001, 2003, 2004), First Team All-Pro (2003), Pro Bowls (2001, 2002, 2003), Pro Football Hall of Fame Team of the 2000s Second-Team, Patriots Hall of Famer (2014).
If this were a list of my favorite guys to cover, you’d probably have to wait until No. 1 before we got to Tajuan. Absolutely out of his mind in the best possible way.
Law didn’t subscribe to the Patriots conventions of what a player should or shouldn’t do or say. Believing Bill Belichick wasn’t being forthright in negotiations after the 2003 season, Law called him a liar. Told he couldn’t check Marvin Harrison in the 2003 AFC Championship Game, Law walked out to cover him anyway. And Belichick let him do it with the caution that, when he screwed up, he was coming off of him. Law had three picks.
That’s the way Law recalled it during his Patriots Hall Of Fame speech, at least. It was a little less brazen in Law’s retelling of the scenario days after the game. But that was Law. One of the very best corners in the NFL for close to a decade, he was as much a showman as any player has been allowed to be under Belichick.
Think about the Super Bowl 36 pick-six. He put the 14-point underdog Patriots up 7-3 with his 47-yard return. Halfway to the end zone, he raises a hand to the crowd. When he gets there, he embarks on a weird, double-stomp, sweep-the-turf dance. The Patriots might have embraced the role of underdog, but Law would never allow himself to think a wideout or another team was better than him. And in 2001, when the team was made up of scrubs, retreads and unprovens, Law’s confidence had a trickle-down impact.
He was also the most physically powerful corner in the league and he used that to his advantage until Bill Polian of the Colts used his NFL Competition Committee clout in 2004 to make sure officials tightened up on the manhandling Patriots defense, which kept sending Polian’s Colts home in playoff disgrace.
Law’s last season with the Patriots was 2004 and that year ended in his hometown of Pittsburgh when he blew out his ACL in a loss that also snapped the Patriots NFL-record winning streak of 21 games. Law walked off Heinz Field that day, telling me later, “Not leaving the field in front of my family on a cart!” He missed the playoffs and that third Super Bowl win, then was off to the Jets where he came up with 10 picks in 2005. He passed through Kansas City and Denver before dabbling with a possible Patriots return at the end of his career. All the business rancor from 2003 and 2004 was long buried.
You couldn’t stay mad at Ty and Ty wasn’t going to stay mad at you. He’d say his peace -- in extreme terms -- and move on. He once bitched at me for not taking his side during his contract battles. (I termed his media circuit as Ty Law’s Hungry Man Tour after he told the Boston Globe he had to feed his family.) “Look how much Peyton Manning makes!” Law hissed at me in the locker room. “Nobody complains about Peyton Manning! And Peyton Manning is gonna put me in the Hall!”
Law may not get to Canton (he was a HOF semifinalist this year). But he’s got a permanent home here in Foxboro.