Best ever? Go with 2004 Patriots
Driven to the depths of sports TV watching during these trying times, there have been weeks now of swings and misses.
Wednesday night was not one of those as we stumbled upon the replay of the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl 39 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
As much as I have admired that 2004 Patriots football team, and all the title teams of that era, meaning 2001-06, it took one more look at that classic victory, in which the Pats overcame Terrell Owens and his 9-catch, 122-yard performance, to drive home the fact that that was the greatest football team of all time.
In my eyes, as I count Hall-of-Fame players, that ’04 Patriots team, when the dust settles, will ultimately have nine players represented in Canton.
Add in Robert Kraft and, of course, Bill Belichick, and you are talking legendary status. Yes, that of the 1970s Steelers and the 1990s Niners.
Cornerback Ty Law has already begun the stream.
Talk about deserving. Law, who played 15 years including the first 10 in Foxborough, spent the bulk of his Patriots’ time in the “best corner in the game” category.
All but one of his five Pro Bowl selections came with the Patriots, and despite the fact that Jets fans would claim his best year came wearing Green in the Meadowlands (2005, career-high 10 picks), Law would land on the corner opposite Mike Haynes on New England’s all-time defensive team.
The other eight? I would consider five to be locks.
One Mr. Thomas Edward Patrick Brady will most likely have the five-year waiting period waived, a la His Airness Michael Jordan in basketball.
Defensive lineman Richard Seymour has been knocking down the Canton door the last two years, falling short in the final vote, somehow.
If there was ever a “look-test” player, it was Seymour, who made five straight Pro Bowls with the Pats, with three All-Pros thrown in.
Not once did he hit double figures, but Seymour’s eight-sack season in 2003, will go down as the best ever by a New England defensive lineman.
Vince Wilfork’s first-year with the Patriots was 2004, and he started just six regular season games, plus the Super Bowl, at nose tackle.
Wilfork won a pair of Patriots’ Super Bowls the hard way, absorbing the two brutal losses to the Giants (’07 and ’11) before closing out his Pats career by beating the Seahawks after the 2014 season.
He had a 10-year run, five Pro Bowls, in which ruled games from the down-and-dirtiest spot on the field.
As far as pure place-kickers go, there are just two in the Hall of Fame: Jan Stenerud and Morten Andersen.
When Adam Vinatieri retires, there will be three.
The most clutch foot in football history simply needs to have some kid cull together a highlight reel of money kicks and consider his ticket punched.
A fifth “lock” should probably already be there. Safety Rodney Harrison retired from the game in 2008.
It might take a couple more years of television goodwill for the resentment he built up as a player to subside.
Harrison made you hate him. He always dropped the extra elbow, forearm or knee on the pile. His smack talk matched the physical nastiness.
None of those receivers who moaned about Harrison wouldn’t want to play with him.
He wasn’t around for the 2001 title team, but you could stack him up with anyone on those monster Patriots defenses of 03-04 for level of importance.
Most importantly, he oozed character, on the field and off it. Character matters. It did then, and it does now.
The last three will need some help, a push from Belichick here, some glad-handing with the powers that be there, but if you look at their careers and note that all three are three-time Super Bowl champs, they must get the nod.
All are linebackers: Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi.
With 86 sacks in 15 pro seasons, McGinest has the numbers. He’s more like a football equivalent of a Carl Yastrzemski, providing top-level performance and consistency over such a long period of time.
His post-playing days have been spent on air with the NFL Network. And it says here he’ll be the first to go.
Vrabel’s Hall chances could hinge on his coaching career, helping to oversell what was a good but not “special” career with just one All-Pro.
He’s off to a rousing start, but did he just put his team’s future in Ryan Tannehill’s hands? Sorry to digress.
Vrabel’s Hall of Fame work was solidifying that linebacker corps.
He was like glue. His presence made McGinest better, and it freed up Bruschi.
Tedy was always a team favorite, but in the Super Bowl stretch, he grew into a playmaker.
Part of that was on Vrabel and the talent around this defense.
Another huge part was Bruschi’s innate ability to find the football and conquer.
The 2005 AFC Comeback Player of the Year only made one Pro Bowl.
Again, like a Vrabel, Bruschi is less about the numbers and much more about the performance and the output.
In the end, you’re talking three Super Bowls in four rings in an era where Brady was much more of a role player than he has been over the second half of his career.
That 2004 team defeated the opposition by 11.1 points a game in the regular season and 11.3 in the postseason.
There are no flukey dynasties. Sometimes, though, time makes you forget just how impressive a team can be.