CANTON, Ohio — Richard Seymour’s draft night wish didn’t come true — but his dreams sure did.
Raised in the South, Seymour was hoping to get selected by a team in the Sun Belt. Instead, he wound up in New England with Bill Belichick, who plucked the Georgia defensive lineman with the sixth overall pick in 2001.
“I knew exactly where I wanted to play — some place warm. The Lord answered that prayer and sent me south of the Mass. Pike,’’ Seymour said with a chuckle Saturday during his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech at Tom Benson Stadium. “It was one of the luckiest breaks of my life.’’
He remembered that rookie season, carrying equipment and going on Dunkin’ runs for the veterans but he never thought of them as chores.
“I felt like an intern, but I was happy to do it because in exchange, these generous men shared their experience and their wisdom,” said Seymour. “They taught me the nuances of the game.”
Seymour found out about his call to the Hall when former teammate and longtime pal Ty Law, who also owns a gold jacket, paid a surprise visit to his house last winter.
Seymour immediately helped galvanize the Patriots’ defense, literally playing a huge role in the club winning three Super Bowls in his first four seasons.
Perhaps the 6-foot-6-inch, 320-pound Seymour’s stats would be considered modest by some — 57.5 sacks in a dozen seasons, including 39 in eight Patriot seasons — but numbers never told Seymour’s story.
His physical impact, however, most certainly did.
He mastered every technique and spot on the line, allowing Belichick and his staff to come up with varying game plans from week to week that allowed Seymour and the pieces around him to shine.
‘I knew exactly where I wanted to play — some place warm. The Lord answered that prayer and sent me south of the Mass. Pike,’’ Seymour said. “It was one of the luckiest breaks of my life.’
Routinely dispatched along the defensive front line to occupy two and three blockers and unclog lanes for linebackers, Seymour used a blessed blend of power and precision to get the job done.
“I just knew wherever he was, it was going to be easy for a linebacker to be behind,” said Tedy Bruschi. “He could do it all. He made my job easier.’’
Matthew Slater, whose Hall of Fame father, Jackie, was on stage to see Seymour inducted, remembered his former teammate as “a dominant force” on the field and exemplary leader in the locker room.
“His physical presence in our defense and the role that he played was so critical to everything that we did,” said Slater, who joked that his “hairline never recovered” from the rookie haircut Seymour gave him. “And God didn’t make very many guys like Richard Seymour to have that size and athleticism and just the ability to impact the game the way he did. It was truly fun to watch.’’
Seymour, introduced by Titus Duren, his principal at Lower Richland (S.C.) High, said “this day belongs to my family,” and thanked his former Patriots teammates (while taking a friendly jab at Tom Brady), Robert Kraft, and Belichick.
“Together, we were in constant pursuit of that edge,’’ Seymour said. “We called ourselves ‘The Edgers.’ That edge was our culture. You see, we felt a sense of responsibility to each other, a sense of obligation. None of us wanted to be the person to let the team down, to let our brothers down, and that defined us. We never cared who got the accolades as long as we got the W … We had a young quarterback, but we made it work.’’
Brady called Seymour’s enshrinement “a crowning achievement … I love Richard. [I’m] just really happy to be a part of some great teams with him.’’
Seymour called Kraft “The Godfather,’’ and one of the best owners in sports.
“And of course, this wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Coach Belichick. Coach, you’re the best coach in the game. The lessons that I’ve learned from you set me up for success, not just in the game, but in life,’’ Seymour said. “Work hard, be meticulous in your preparation, support your teammates, respect your opponents, and put the team first. Coach, thank you for everything you’ve taught me.’’
Kraft, who watched Seymour’s speech near the stage, said “it was really emotional and special,” and called him a “foundational piece of the beginning of this special run … He was so dominating. The defense really made the big difference in those early years and he was the heart and soul.’’
Seymour spent his final four seasons with the Raiders and said, “Learning under the late, great Al Davis was an unexpected gift. Mr. Davis was a coach, commissioner, and Super Bowl champion. But above all else, he was a great leader because he welcomed and listened to every voice.’’
Also earning gold jackets and bronze busts Saturday were Jaguars offensive tackle Tony Boselli, late Raiders receiver Cliff Branch, late Saints and Panthers linebacker Sam Mills, Packers linebacker LeRoy Butler, 49ers defensive lineman Bryant Young, coach Dick Vermeil (Eagles, Rams, Chiefs), and Art McNally, the first official to be honored.