Getting the chance to serve as a member of the Patriots’ Hall of Fame nominating committee is a terrific honor, one that I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy for more than a decade. And even though we’re practicing social distancing these days – which meant a video conference call with other members of the committee Monday afternoon as opposed to the usual luncheon — there was another great debate this year when it came to picking the finalists.
The rules are the same as they have been in the past: A candidate must be four years removed from his playing/coaching career to be eligible for induction. Committee members discuss candidates, and at the end of that process, each committee member votes for their top three choices with 5 points for the first choice, 3 for the second, and 1 for the third. Those finishing in the top three in points are then placed on the final ballot, which is announced and then voted on by fans via www.patriots.com. (The announcement of the three finalists should be made in the next week or so.)
Fan voting will then determine this year’s inductee.
This year, there were a boatload of great names nominated, including Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel, as well as first-time nominees Wes Welker and Logan Mankins. Others who had their names tossed in included Randy Moss, Fred Marion, Mosi Tatupu, Chuck Fairbanks, and Bill Parcells.
As for me, I settled on three — in order of how I listed them on the ballot: Seymour, Vrabel, and Mankins.
I settled on Seymour at No. 1 for a variety of reasons. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have written letters of his behalf advocating for him to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which should alone make him worthy of a red jacket in Foxborough. (He’s been a two-time finalist, and frankly, it would look odd if he made the Pro Football Hall of Fame before the Patriots’ Hall of Fame.) In six of his eight years with the Patriots, he made some sort of All-Pro team, including first-team AP All-Pro on three occasions.
His versatility and strength allowed him to line up at multiple spots along the defensive front, and his abilities as a disruptor in the run and pass game made him a handful for opposing offensive coordinators. Bottom line? He was dominant. He deserves this more than anyone else on the ballot.
My second pick went to Vrabel. No one on the ballot did more in all three phases of the game – one committee member noted his special teams’ snaps when it came to his all-around skill set. A playmaker in every sense of the word, he could always be counted to do the right thing at the most important time. Smart, tough, and a leader, you look at his resume and it’s clear Vrabel — who has been a finalist in the past – deserves to be part of the conversation this time around. Plus, I think it would be fun to see what sort of reaction he’d get in August, less than a year after closing out the 2019 Patriots as the head coach of the Titans.
My third vote went to first-timer Mankins. In my time covering the Patriots, I always found the guards to be the toughest guys in the locker room, and Mankins set the standard. He played nearly a full season on a torn ACL, for goodness sakes. Rock solid, ornery and ultra-dependable, he was a part of multiple All-Pro teams, the spiritual heir to John Hannah.
One story about Mankins: We were always on good terms, but one time, I wasn’t so sure. I keep a tally throughout the season of penalties and how much individual yardage, and one year, he was leading the team roughly halfway through the season. He called me out in front of some other reporters one afternoon because of it, so much so I was a little worried about what might happen the next time I went into the locker room.
That afternoon, I edged up to him and asked him if we were OK. He waited for what seemed like a minute with a gruff look on his face … before breaking a smile and saying, “Awww, I was just [busting] your [chops]” before smiling and walking away.
As for those I left off, Welker was probably the toughest omission – I went back and forth between him and Mankins when it came to the third spot on my ballot. I believe Welker should eventually make it. In fact, among the committee members, there was enough debate to indicate he could be a finalist this year.
It felt odd leaving off someone like Moss, who had the single greatest season of any receiver in franchise history. (The lesson there? Longevity with the franchise counts, one of the reasons someone like Curtis Martin never got any traction with the voters, in my opinion.)
As for the coaches, well, this is an old story, particularly when it comes to Parcells. He’s been a finalist over the years, and while I could be making too much out of the reaction his name got on social media, I’m always taken aback at the level of vitriol that still accompanies his name, even nearly 25 years after his departure.
We’ll see if he makes it, but as a part of the nominating committee, the fact that he’s been nominated as a finalist on multiple occasions and still hasn’t gotten through tells me something about the will of the people. Maybe that will change down the road? But it’s clear some people won’t forget (or forgive) the way he left Foxborough.
Christopher Price can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at cpriceglobe.