It’s inevitable that Terry Glenn, who died at age 43 in a one-vehicle crash early Monday near Dallas, will first be remembered as the grocery item Bill Parcells wanted to leave on the shelf.
The story is a seminal moment in Patriots lore. Glenn, an uncommonly graceful All-America receiver from Ohio State, was selected seventh overall in the 1996 NFL Draft over the objections of Parcells, the accomplished and obstinate coach. Parcells coveted a defensive lineman — Oklahoma’s Cedric Jones and Texas’s Tony Brackens were rumored to be his favorites.
His intention, he acknowledged years later, was to get a receiver later in the draft, a big-time pass catcher for young quarterback Drew Bledsoe in a receiver-rich draft that included future stars Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Eric Moulds, and No. 1 overall choice Keyshawn Johnson.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft and general manager Bobby Grier did not want to wait. They wanted Glenn as a toy for Bledsoe, who had been making do with marginal receivers such as Michael Timpson and Ray Crittenden. So they took him. Parcells was overruled. Legend has it that he overturned a table and stormed out of the draft room, though one suspects he had some input in the selections of safety Lawyer Milloy and linebacker Tedy Bruschi later in that draft, his kind of guys.
When Parcells aired his grievance, he did so with what would become one of the most memorable quotes in franchise history, though you probably won’t find it etched in granite at Patriot Place any time soon: “If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”
The irony was that Glenn was precisely the ingredient those young Patriots needed to add to the recipe. He caught an NFL rookie-record 90 passes in ’96 while joining Bledsoe, running back Curtis Martin, and tight end Ben Coates on a dynamic young offense that advanced all the way to Super Bowl XXXI, which they lost to the favored Packers.
Patriots fans of certain generations — pretty much anyone who cared for the franchise before Bill Belichick and Tom Brady built a dynasty among dynasties — remember the hope that accompanied the ’96 Patriots. Much of that was due to Glenn, who for the more wishful among us was certain to be the Michael Irvin to Bledsoe’s Troy Aikman and Martin’s Emmitt Smith.
The image of Glenn blowing past future Hall of Famer Rod Woodson on the first play from scrimmage in the ’96 Patriots’ divisional-round victory over the Steelers remains vivid in the mind even though it occurred in a deep fog. Save for perhaps 1976, the Patriots had never enjoyed a more satisfying season to that point.
The drafting of Glenn was a pivotal moment in Patriots history in another way: Because it was the impetus for Parcells’s departure following the ’96 season for the rival Jets, it set in motion a sequence of events that eventually led to Belichick taking the Patriots job before the 2000 season. Yes, good thing they did not allow Parcells to take Cedric Jones. None of this might have happened. Glenn was a one-man butterfly effect.
When news and details of Glenn’s death — he was ejected from his vehicle, while his fiancee suffered minor injuries — spread Monday afternoon, it felt for Patriots fans as if we were reminiscing about a player from another time and place. But in truth, he was a bridge to this golden era. Glenn, just three years older than Brady, caught the first touchdown pass of the quarterback’s young career in a 2001 game against the Chargers.
That was his last highlight as a Patriot. Bitter about his contract status, he was banished by Belichick during the magical run to the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory and traded in the offseason to the Packers. Glenn’s promise was only fulfilled periodically as a Patriot. Even Parcells, who grew to like him, admonished him as “she” when he perceived Glenn to be taking too long to recover from an injury. The comment brought har-hars and guffaws. It would bring a string of apologies nowadays.
Even during Glenn’s moments of self-inflicted drama, he was easy to root for, especially if you were aware of his backstory. His mother was murdered when he was 13 years old, and he bounced from home to home as a youth before the parents of a friend took him in. Bledsoe told ESPN Monday that Glenn acknowledged having trust issues as a young man but had opened up in recent years.
“[I] loved this man,’’ Bledsoe tweeted Monday afternoon. “My son asked me a decade ago who my favorite receiver ever was because he wanted that jersey for Christmas. He got a Terry Glenn jersey from Santa. TG overcame horrible adversity to become a really good man. May your soul rest in peace my friend.”
No one would have ever expected it on draft day in 1996, but Parcells and Glenn developed a bond that would see them reunite for four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. Glenn finished his 12-year career in Dallas, totaling 8,823 receiving yards and 44 touchdowns. But he’ll always be remembered here for that wonderful first season as a Patriot, when he was the ingredient Parcells needed, even if he didn’t know it right away. Patriots fans have so many riches these days. But if you didn’t get to see Terry Glenn during his spectacular arrival, you missed something special.