Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO -- One by one, the names were rattled off. There were 13 in all. All were deemed worthy of consideration for the Patriots Hall of Fame by the nomination committee, which met at Gillette Stadium on Thursday. 

Committee members could only scribble three names onto their respective ballots. Of that group, three will be made finalists. One will be voted in by fans and fitted for a red jacket later this year. 

From the team's perspective, to have that many names worth discussing is a first-world problem. Still, whittling down that group to three was a challenge. 

This year I was able to sit in on the nomination committee meeting and vote for the first time. I'll lay out my choices below, but first, here are some of my takeaways from the discussion . . . 

NOMINEES RUN THE GAMUT
Of the baker's dozen considered, two were head coaches. Three were safeties. Two were defensive linemen. There was a receiver and a dynamite special-teamer. One was a tight end. One played tight end occasionally and often scored when he did.

Three players won multiple championships early in Bill Belichick's tenure. One won one in his last season with the team. Two made two Patriots all-decade teams for their contributions during the 1970s and 1980s. Names from the 1960s and 1990s were represented as well. 

Here were the nominees: Julius Adams, Larry Eisenhower, Chuck Fairbanks, Tim Fox, Russ Francis, Rodney Harrison, Fred Marion, Lawyer Milloy, Randy Moss, Bill Parcells, Richard Seymour, Mosi Tatupu and Mike Vrabel.

 

Fairbanks (2013), Marion (2012), Parcells (2011, 2012, 2014), Seymour (2017, 2018) and Vrabel (2016, 2017, 2018) have all been named finalists in the past but were not chosen by fans. Adams, Francis, Harrison and Tatupu have all been nominated in the past but none have made it to the fan vote.

Leon Gray (finalist in 2013 and 2015) was voted into the Hall on Thursday by the senior selection committee. 

NOMINATION COMMITTEE MEMBERS
Who's cutting all these names down to one final trio for fans to pick from? 

The 10-person senior committee includes Patriots director of football research Ernie Adams, the ultimate sounding board for these discussions considering he spent 1975-78 with the Patriots under Fairbanks and then returned with Belichick in 2000. Ron Borges (Boston Herald/Globe), Bill Burt (Lawrence Eagle Tribune), Jim Donaldson (Providence Journal), Mark Farinella (Sun Chronicle), Glen Farley (Brockton Enterprise), Ron Hobson (Patriot Ledger), Carlo Imelio (Springfield Union News), Paul Perillo (Patriots.com) and Matt Smith (Kraft Sports Productions) round out the group. 

Others on the committee this year: Patriots Hall of Famers Andre Tippett and Steve Nelson, executive director of the Patriots Hall of Fame Bryan Morry, Patriots.com's Fred Kirsch, play-by-play man Bob Socci, public-address announcer John Rooke, 98.5 the Sports Hub's Marc Cappello, Fox 25's Butch Stearns, ESPN's Mike Reiss, Boston Sports Journal's Chris Price, the Globe's Jim McBride, the Herald's Kevin Duffy, our guy Tom E. Curran and myself. (Curran wrote about his votes here last year.)

FOCUSING IN ON PARCELLS, MOSS 
Is it any surprise that two of the nominees who sparked the most spirited discussions Thursday were two people who frequently sparked spirited discussions when they were still in the league? The cases for Parcells and Moss both carved out a significant chunk of time during the meeting. 

It's made clear beforehand that the conversations surrounding individuals nominated are confidential, but I can give you my thoughts on this pair.

Parcells absolutely changed the culture in New England. The team may be elsewhere if it wasn't for him, and the Patriots Hall of Fame itself might not exist had he not come in and turned things around when he did. How he left the franchise, though, remains part of his legacy. I think that complicates things enough that it makes him less than a slam-dunk candidate -- particularly when stacked up against some of the others eligible.

Moss was electrifying for three seasons in New England. I think that sometimes gets forgotten because his 2007 was so otherworldly. But he had 1,000-yard seasons in 2008 (with Matt Cassel) and 2009 to go along with his record-breaking first year with Tom Brady. With just over three years in Foxboro and without a ring to show for his stay -- especially when up against other players from the same era who won championships -- Moss' candidacy doesn't quite rise to the level of some others this year, in my opinion. 

 

MY VOTES
Each committee member can vote for three names. A first-place vote is worth five "points," a second-place vote is worth three, and a third-place vote is worth one. 

I voted for Vrabel, Seymour and Harrison. In that order. To me, they were the no-doubters among this year's nominees. The only question is who gets in when. 

Harrison -- who has yet to make it through to the fan vote despite being eligible the last few years -- had two dominant seasons on Super Bowl-winning defenses. He was a true eraser, someone teams had to game-plan around, and a booster shot of culture for a program that was just starting to solidify even though it already had one title under its belt.

Seymour very well could be named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the very near future. There's a case to be made that he's the best player (among those eligible) to have played under Belichick and not be in the team's Hall of Fame. That will change. And soon. Seymour has been a finalist each of the last two years, and I'd expect he'll be back in the same position again this spring. 

Vrabel, who has been a finalist each of the last three years, was my top choice. When I had the opportunity to say my piece on the current Tennessee Titans head coach, I made sure to emphasize that he was, in my opinion, representative of what has made this franchise great for the better part of the last two decades. He was Mr. Versatility. In between drives spent rushing and setting an edge, he was a red-zone threat as a tight end. He also made legitimate contributions in the kicking game, and -- as Jerod Mayo has explained to us in the past -- he was one of the few linebackers in Belichick's system who could play both on the edge and off the ball effectively. Vrabel was whip smart, challenging teammates and coaches alike on a regular basis, and he had few peers when it came to performing under pressure. 

NEXT PATS PODCAST: Mayo on the life of an LB under Belichick

For my money, among this year's nominees, Vrabel best embodies the qualities of the type of player that has come to define this dynasty. But I don't have final say. You do.

Votes will soon be tallied and three finalists announced. That announcement is expected to be made later this month, with the fan vote opening up online soon thereafter. 

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