Thanks to a vote of New England fans, former defensive tackle Vince Wilfork was selected as the 32nd inductee in the Patriots Hall of Fame this week.
The former first-round pick, five-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl winner may owe the honor to the vans, but he was quick to turn the adoration around to those very fans when discussing his Hall-worthy time in Foxborough.
“A lot of these states don't get what Boston has with all professional sports. And the one thing I really love about it is the fans,” Wilfork declared. “The fan base that we have in Boston -- you can't compare. You got a couple places out there that might have multiple professional sports teams that are championship-quality and been there in the past, but it's something about being a New England guy, being a fan, and playing sports, because one thing I know is the fans love their sports and their athletes. And as athletes, we love to embrace that. So a lot of credit goes to the fans as well. I love the fans, I've never played in a stadium with the type of fans that we had. And that's a credit to the fans.”
Though Wilfork finished he career in Houston with the Texans, he was a mainstay on the defensive line in New England during essentially two parts of the Patriots dynasty. Early in his career he was a running mate on the defensive front with Pro Football Hall of Famer Richard Seymour on the 2004 title run, but remained a mainstay on the defensive line through his final season in Patriots uniform in 2014.
Clearly deserving of his spot in the Patriots Hall of Fame alongside the other franchise greats, Wilfork said he never really dreamed such an honor would come.
“I never once thought about the Hall of Fame when I started playing football, and I never once thought about a Hall of Fame when I finished. That was just never on my radar because I love football, my passion was football,” Wilfork said. “But I'm not one of those players that says 'One of my goals is to be a Hall of Famer.' No, my goal is to be the best teammate I could be, win a championship, and win a football game, that's it. So, now it's full circle, now I'm done, and now I can sit back and now I can say 'OK, I'm a Patriots Hall of Famer' I see what it means now, (more) than when I played.
When I played, I never once thought about it.
“And it's just an amazing feeling. It's an honor to be regarded as one of the best that's ever done it for the Patriots. I love it. That's all I wanted-- I just wanted to be the best player I possibly could be. I wanted to be the best defensive lineman I could possibly be for the New England Patriots.”
Never lacking in confidence, Wilfork is grateful for his accomplishments as both an individual and in the Patriots run of success. He’s grateful for the players he played with and the guidance he got from his “GOAT” coach, Bill Belichick. And he pulls no punches when it comes to the production he put forth as one of the more versatile, athletic, powerful big men of his generation, or maybe any generation.
“I was probably one of the best two-gap nose tackles that ever played the game, and I'll put it against anyone,” Wilfork said. “I played from left to right on the defense. You don't have any noses doing that. When you find one, you can let me know. So I've always regarded myself as one of the best defensive tackles, the best nose tackle, that ever played the game, and people can fight me on it, people can have their opinions on it, but I'm just telling you where I stand, because I was that one guy that can go from left to right defensive end, and anywhere in the middle.
“So I was a nightmare for offenses trying to figure out where I'm going to be. And all that credit goes to Bill Belichick. That's totally Bill trusting me enough to be able to learn those positions, and not only play those positions, but play them at a high level. He put me out there because he knew that I was capable of doing what I needed to do out there. I'm one of the best nose tackles that has ever played the game up until this point. So, like I said, we can leave it up for debate but that's just what it is, and until you find a nose tackle that can play the positions that I played, let me know. And we can talk.”
One of the next times Wilfork talks to Patriot Nation, it will be in front of a massive crowd of his beloved fans at the Hall induction ceremony at Gillette Stadium wearing a red jacket. It’s an honor that the defensive lineman may never have really thought about while playing. It’s an honor that’s well deserved and one that he certainly appreciates.
“Being able to wake up to beautiful news-- that beautiful news of being selected into the Patriots Hall of Fame, it means the world to me. Means the world to me,” Wilfork said.