FOXBORO -- The logjam for entrance into the Patriots Hall of Fame is upon us.
We knew it was coming. But Wednesday afternoon at the Patriots Hall of Fame Nomination Committee meeting, I realized the difficulty many very, very good and important former Patriots players and coaches will have getting inducted.
Toward the end of the meeting I popped my hand in the air and posed a question to Stacey James, the Patriots VP of Media Relations. James works really hard on the HOF and I knew he’d probably gone over this in the 11 years since these meetings began, so I apologized in advance.
“There are some really good candidates here who have no prayer of getting in,” I said, overstating it because there is a Senior Committee that can take up the case of overlooked candidates after they’ve been out of the game for 25 years. “Julius Adams, Deion Branch, Randy Moss . . . is there a Ring of Honor or something we can have that is a notch below Hall of Fame status or would that be a slight to players . . . "
Andre Tippett, who’s in both the Patriots Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, cocked his head to the side and regarded me. “You want participation awards, is that it?”
“No,” I answered. “I’m just looking at the reality of it here . . . we have a list here of 10 guys that are either eligible now or will be in the next few years that are going to have to be in. Some guys have no shot.”
Ernie Adams, the Patriots special advisor, comes to this annual meeting armed with knowledge nobody else has. He was with the Patriots from 1975 through 1978 when Chuck Fairbanks built a fearsome team. He rejoined the team when Bill Belichick became head coach and -- since 2000 -- has been the enigmatic, mysterious football whisperer behind the curtain.
He’s politely aloof the rest of the year. Seen but not heard. But at this meeting he and Tippett are our sounding boards. The rest of the committee is close to the team but not that close. Adams and Tippett fill in the blanks either confirming or correcting presumptions.
“It should be hard to get in,” said Adams. “It should be exclusive.”
One of the requests made of the committee is that conversations about candidates be kept confidential. Don’t be out there quoting people on what they say about this or that player.
But we are given the green light to discuss who we nominate and why. This, of course, isn’t the final nomination process. Each member of the committee can vote for three candidates in order of preference. A first-place vote is worth five “points”, a second-place vote is three points, a third-place vote is one point. After the points of the committee are tallied, the three highest-point getters are presented to the public who votes for the inductee.
Last year, Raymond Clayborn -- a four-time finalist -- was voted in ahead of Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel.
Since 2011, the inductees have been Drew Bledsoe, Troy Brown, Tedy Bruschi, Ty Law, Willie McGinest, Kevin Faulk and Clayborn.
To me, there are four eligible players who HAVE to be in the Hall: Vrabel, Seymour, Rodney Harrison and Matt Light.
In the coming years, they’ll be joined by Vince Wilfork, Adam Vinatieri, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Bill Parcells, Deion Branch will -- in my estimation -- be on the outside looking in. At least on my ballot until the others get inducted.
This year, I voted for Vrabel, Harrison and Light, in that order. It kills me to leave Seymour off -- he was probably the most talented and dominant on-field player of the group. Here’s why I had the others ahead of him.
Vrabel – like Troy Brown, Tedy Bruschi and Kevin Faulk -- personified so much of what the first iteration of the Patriots dynasty has been all about. Versatile. Selfless. Productive. Impossible to keep off the field. At his best in the biggest games. Brilliant. A locker-room unifier.
He was there for the first three, he applied the pressure to Kurt Warner that forced Ty Law’s pick-six against the Rams in SB36, he caught touchdown passes in SB38 and SB39.
I put Harrison at No. 2 because of the turbo-boost he injected into the franchise when he was acquired in 2003. I don’t know if the team would have done what it did from then through 2007 without him. He reignited the “nobody believes in us” psyche that led to the 2001 title and he kept going back to that well even after everyone believed in the Patriots.
Finally, I voted for Light. Now, when I did my Top 50 Patriots Under Belichick series three years ago, I had Light ahead of both Harrison and Vrabel. And I still believe in the case I made at that time for putting him where I did on that list. He bridged the 2009 rebuild and played in SB46 too – and at a high level.
So why not have him higher? Or Seymour?
It’s a feel thing. In my opinion, what you meant to the culture of the team. And the Patriots’ culture has been a huge part of the team’s success and identity as it was with the Raiders and Steelers of the 1970s. How much the player promotes that culture matters when considering a team Hall of Fame. That’s why I nominated and strongly supported Kevin Faulk’s candidacy two years ago. Even ahead of Vrabel.
We’ll see how the points stack up and who is offered to the public for final consideration. It will certainly generate conversation. Funny, isn’t it? The idea of a Patriots Hall of Fame would have been laughable at the turn of the century. Now? Release the hounds.