Greatness is nebulous. It’s not easily defined or summarized, but to borrow the famous words of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart on another topic, you know it when you see it.
If you ever saw Richard Seymour play on the defensive line in his prime, you knew you were witnessing greatness, and you didn’t need numbers to tell you.
Now, there will be a bust of Seymour at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, attesting to that greatness. The dominating Patriots defensive end will be enshrined Saturday, a deserving honor for a player whose mere stats will never do justice.
Seymour, the man they call “Big Sey,” was one of those players you had to see to fully grasp his greatness. No pro-football-reference visit or YouTube highlight-reel rabbit hole will allow you to appreciate the difference Seymour made and the dominance he displayed during the defensive heyday of the Patriots dynasty.
One of my lasting memories of Seymour was him lifting up and tossing aside Hall of Famer Orlando Pace, arguably the best left tackle of his generation, like a rag doll to make a play in 2008. That simply didn’t happen to Pace.
Outside of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, there may have been no person more talented than Seymour doing his job in Fort Foxborough during the Patriots’ reign. He could do it all along the defensive line, and often was asked to by Belichick; he was the ultimate chess piece.
Army football famously had the running back tandem of Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis. Seymour was Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside for the Patriots defense during his eight seasons in New England, depending on the need, the scheme, and the opponent.
“For a coach who loves to utilize a player’s versatility, Richard was the perfect Patriot,” Brady wrote on Seymour’s behalf to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.
“He had the size and speed to play on the outside on the defensive line, but the strength and quickness to play inside, too. You simply aren’t going to find many 6-[foot-]6 players who can line up on the nose and still dominate the line of scrimmage. That type of flexibility allowed our coaches to transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3, often times with similar personnel, allowing us to disguise our looks and create matchup problems for our opponents.”
That’s quite the testimonial from TB12, who called Seymour “a cornerstone” of the Patriots teams that won three Super Bowls in four seasons from 2001-04.
If there’s a consistent theme with Seymour, it’s that industry folks — the people who know the intricacies of the NFL — laud him.
Super Bowl-winning coach Dick Vermeil, also part of the Hall of Fame Class of 2022, said in 2005: “Seymour is, I think, the best defensive end we play against.”
Seymour made five straight Pro Bowls from 2002-06, was named a Pro Bowler seven times overall, and was a three-time Associated Press first-team All-Pro.
They don’t credit team wins to defensive lineman’s legacies as they do for quarterbacks and coaches. In Seymour’s case, they should.
Selected sixth overall in 2001, Seymour was the first first-round pick of the Belichick era, and he was a home run. (The Patriots didn’t have a first-round pick in 2000, Belichick’s first year, because it went to the New York Jets as part of the compensation package for Belichick.)
He made an immediate impact, part of the defense that powered the Patriots to an improbable Super Bowl title that season and launched an unlikely dynasty.
Those early Patriots defenses asked Seymour to do the dirty work, to occupy blockers so someone like Tedy Bruschi could get the glory.
The Patriots were big on gap integrity, which meant no flying upfield to chase the passer like a dog pursuing a Frisbee, a stat-pumping liberty afforded to some of Seymour’s contemporaries around the league.
Until 2007, when Mike Vrabel registered 12.5 sacks as an outside linebacker, no Patriot defender reached double-digit sacks under Belichick. That puts Seymour’s eight-sack seasons in 2003 and 2008 into perspective. He could’ve garnered twice as many in a system that allowed him to tee off.
“His sack totals weren’t high. Mine weren’t high. That’s the defense we play in,” said fellow defensive end Ty Warren in 2009, following Seymour’s shocking trade to the Oakland Raiders, a deal that locker room never recovered from.
“We’re run-stoppers first and play the pass second. That’s just what we played with. Everybody knows what Seymour brought to the table.”
The Hall of Fame induction speech should come easily to Seymour. No. 93 was immutable on the field, but far from mute.
He stood up blockers, stood up for what he believed in, and stood up to Belichick when nobody was doing that.
He held out of training camp in 2005 with two years left on his rookie contract to get his deal reworked, which ended up being a prelude to the four-year, approximately $30 million extension he signed in 2006.
It was begrudging acknowledgment from Belichick of how vital Seymour was.
He purposely hung around the locker room and waited for the media to be allowed in the day the Patriots traded Deion Branch in 2006, so he could comment on the deal.
The Foxborough Filter never took on Seymour. He was willing to sublimate his ego as a player — playing on special teams and as a goal-line fullback, which led to a knee injury in 2005 — but not his id as a person.
In 2006, when the Patriots lost at home on a muddy Gillette Stadium field to former Belichick assistant Eric Mangini and the New York Jets, Seymour didn’t hesitate to say the Patriots had been “outplayed and outcoached.”
As he told the media in 2005: “I’m the type of guy that I believe in speaking the truth, you know? I don’t want to cause controversy or anything like that. But I’m just a guy that wants to speak the truth — period.”
The paradox of Seymour is that he was both the perfect Patriot and the chief Patriot apostate, just another example of his versatility.
Anyone who saw Big Sey play can see why he’ll take his rightful place among pro football’s immortals.