Monday, July 13, 2009

The ALMOST All-Time New England Patriots Defense

Nothing has come easy for the game of football when it comes to the New England area.

It always has seemed to take a backseat to baseball, basketball, and even hockey.

They had their first professional football franchise in 1929, when the Boston Bulldogs came to town.

The Bulldogs were actually the Pottsville Maroons, the 1925 NFL Champions who had their title stripped from them in a controversial move by the league.

Though the Chicago Cardinals were handed the 1925 championship, the owners refused to accept the award then. The Cardinals owner now, Bill Bidwell, unfortunately is said to be proud of the trophy. He has blocked all attempts by NFL historians to right the wrong perpetrated by the NFL then, and re-establish the Maroons as the rightful champions.

They had moved to Boston for financial reasons, but only lasted one season before folding.

The Boston Braves were formed in 1932, but soon moved to Washington D.C. because of the lack of support from the community.

They were a team that featured three Hall Of Fame members, and played their games in Fenway Park.

After losing in the 1936 NFL Championship Game before a sparse crowd, owner George Preston Marshall moved the team out of town. They are now known as the Washington Redskins.

The Boston Yanks came to town in 1944, and struggled to gain a fan following. They left for New York after the 1948 season.

The area would not have another professional football team until the 1960 season.

The American Football League was starting out, and the Boston Patriots were one of their charter teams.

The Patriots did enjoy rather early success, making it to the AFL Championship in 1963.

They also had a tough time gathering a following and a consistent home field.

They bounced all around the New England area, and played on four different home fields in just 11 years before settling into Foxborough Stadium in 1971. Their owner, Billy Sullivan, was determined to make professional football work in the area. His perseverance was a fortunate happening for the entire community.

The Patriots have been competitive each decade of their existence. They appeared in their league championship game in each decade except the 1970's. That decade saw them win one division title, but fall short of reaching the title game.

The 2000's have been the best decade the franchise has ever had. The Patriots have won three Super Bowls in four appearances. Their success this decade has them joining the local hockey franchise, as far as title appearances go. Some might go as far to say that their popularity may have passed all professional franchises in the area.

We start first with the defense, because the area is well known to be the countries first line of defense when the nation was first born.

Remember - This list, as the title implies, consists of players who aren't, nor maybe never will be, members of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.



DEFENSIVE TACKLE : Houston Antwine



Houston Antwine was a third round draft choice by the Detroit Lions in the 1961 NFL Draft, the 38th player picked overall, and an eight round draft pick of the Houston Oilers in the AFL Draft.

When the Oilers traded his rights to the Boston Patriots, Antwine joined the the team.

Though Antwine was still recovering from an injury he suffered at the College All-Star Game, the Patriots first put him at offensive guard. They eventually switched him to defensive tackle during his rookie season. It turned out to be a smart move.

Antwine would be named to an All Pro from 1963 to 1968. He garnered these honors despite having to face multiple blockers on virtually every play.

He was named to The Sporting News All-AFL First Team in 1969, as well as the Associated Press All-AFL Second Team.

Antwine had an injury plagued 1971 season, and was only able to play three games.

He joined the Philadelphia Eagles the next year, then retired at the conclusion of the season.

Antwine was a wrestling champion in college, and his expertise on leverage and technique made him a dominating force. He was also a team leader, and was the Patriots captain and player representative throughout most of his career.

Antwine is a member of the All-Time All-AFL First Team, but is somehow not in Canton. This is confusing, since Buck Buchanan of the Kansas City Chiefs is and Buchanan is on the second team.

Another confusing factor is how the Patriots have yet to retire his jersey, and especially the fact he has not been inducted into the Patriots Hall Of Fame thus far.

His six Pro Bowls is tied with Hall Of Fame Cornerback Mike Haynes as the most ever by a Patriot defender, and it is the third most behind Hall Of Fame Guard John Hannah and Center Jon Morris.

His 39 career sacks are tied with Richard Seymour as the most ever in franchise history.

Houston Antwine is easily the best defensive tackle in Patriots history.




DEFENSIVE TACKLE : Jim Lee Hunt




Jim was drafted in the sixteenth round by the Saint Louis Cardinals in the 1960 draft, the 181st player picked overall. He would be cut by the Cardinals in training camp.

The Patriots called Hunt to join the team later in the year, and he joined them less than an hour before the kickoff of a game. He ended up playing six games that season, and recovered a fumble.

Hunt became a huge force in the AFL the next year, and was named to the Pro Bowl.

During the 1963 season, he intercepted a pass and motored 79 yards for a score. His teammates nicknamed him "Earthquake" because of that play.

Hunt returned to the Pro Bowl in 1966, and he also scored on a 51 yard fumble recovery return that season.

He was named a Pro Bowler once again the following season, as he recorded a safety.

In 1968, Hunt led the AFL with four fumble recoveries for 51 yards.

Jim made his last Pro Bowl appearance after the 1969 season, then retired at the conclusion of the 1970 season.

Hunt was a versatile player who played all defensive line positions in his career. He was lauded as the fastest pass rushing defensive tackle at one time in his career, as well as being called the best pass rushing defensive tackle in the AFL in the 1967 season..

He has a nose for the football, and set the AFL record for 14 career fumble recoveries. He also had at least 34.5 sacks in his career.

Jim Lee Hunt's jersey number was retired by the Patriots, and he is a member of the Patriots 1960's All Decade team and Patriots Hall Of Fame.

He is certainly one of the best defensive players to have ever worn the Patriots uniform.

The Patriots have annual award named in his honor, which is awarded to the top lineman on the team.





DEFENSIVE END : Larry Eisenhauer



Larry was the Boston Patriots sixth round draft pick in 1961, the 42nd player chosen overall.

He started in his rookie season, and was named to the New York Daily News All-AFL Second Team. He then would be named All Pro from 1962 to 1964.

After the 1965 season, Eisenhauser returned to the Pro Bowl in the 1966 season.

Larry was hurt in the ninth game of the 1967 season, and was only able to play eight games the following year.

After stating in 13 of the 14 games he played in 1969, he retired.

Eisenhauser was known to be a bit of an eccentric, and was nicknamed "Wildman" by his teammates.

He once ran out into Municipal Stadium, in Kansas City, wearing only a helmet and jock strap after a snow storm.

Larry Eisenhauser is a member of the Patriots 1960's All Decade team.


Julius Adams was Pro Bowl players worth noting.




DEFENSIVE END : Bob Dee





Bob was a nineteenth round draft pick of the Washington Redskins in 1955, the 220th player chosen overall.

After serving in the military due to the Korean Conflict, Dee joined the Redskins in 1957. He left the team after the 1958 season to coach at his Alma mater Holy Cross

He decided to give pro football another try in 1960, when the Boston Patriots and American Football League were born.

Dee would score the first points in AFL history, when he recovered a fumble in the end zone during an exhibition game. He also would intercept the only pass of his career that season, returning it 14 yards.

Dee made his first All Pro Team in 1961, then would attain that honor again in 1962 to 1965. He retired after the 1967 season to pursue other interests away from the game.

Dee never missed a game his entire time with the Patriots, and started in all 112 games. He wore the same helmet, due to superstition, for 105 of those games.

His jersey number is retired by the team, and he is a member of the Patriots 1960's All Decade team and Patriots Hall Of Fame.

Bob Dee might be the best defensive end in the teams history.





LINEBACKER : Tom Addison




Tom was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in the 12th round of the 1958 NFL Draft, the 141st player chosen overall.

He elected to not play pro football until 1960, when he joined the fledgling Patriots. He ended up playing eleven games in his rookie year.

Now firmly entrenched as the Patriots starting OLB on the left side, he made his first Pro Bowl in 1961 after picking off four balls.

He would be named to the Pro Bowl up until 1964.

His 1962 season saw him intercept a career high five passes, and he returned one for the only touchdown of his career.

Addison intercepted four balls then next season, then two more the following year.

He would intercept one pass in 1965, the last of his career

He then would retire after the 1967 season, after sustaining a career ending knee injury in the eleventh game of the season.

Addison is a member of the Patriots All-AFL Team, and he is also noteworthy because he was the first president of the AFL Players Association.

His package of player benefits and insurance was crucial to the AFL surviving and competing with NFL, which would later force the NFL to merge the two leagues.

As a player alone, Tom Addison is one of the finest linebackers in the teams history.




LINEBACKER : Steve Nelson




Steve was a second round draft pick by the Patriots in the 1974 NFL Draft, the 38th player chosen overall.

He ended up starting in nine of the eleven games he played in his rookie season at ILB on the left side. He would play this position his entire career as a full time starter.

Nelson picked off his first two career passes the next season, then would miss four games because of injury the following year.

Nelson continued to be a stalwart in the Patriots defense, intercepting a career high five balls for 104 yards in 1978.

He made his first Pro Bowl in 1980, as he intercepted three passes.

Nelson then had a few seasons where he was affected by injuries. He missed four games in 1981, and eight games in 1983.

He returned to the Pro Bowl in 1984, then attained the honor again the following season.

After missing 11 games, because of injury, the next two seasons, Nelson retired after the 1987 season.

Steve Nelson is a member of the Patriots Hall Of Fame, and his jersey number has been retired by the team.

He is probably the second best MLB on Patriots history, behind Hall Of Famer Nick Buoniconti.

Johnny Rembert was a fine ILB, and two time Pro Bowler, who deserves mention. Sam Hunt is a member of the Patriots 35th Anniversary Team, and also deserves a nod.




LINEBACKER : Willie McGinest




Willie gets this spot, even though he played just five of his twelve years with the Patriots as a linebacker.

He was New England's first round draft pick in 1997, and was the fourth player chosen in the draft.

McGinest was broken in slowly during his rookie season at OLB, starting seven games. He also contributed 4.5 sacks for the team.

The best season of his career might've been in his second year. He had a career best 70 tackles, and a career best eleven sacks.

New England moved McGinest to defensive end before the 1996 season, and he responded by having his first Pro Bowl season. He had his first career interception, returning it for a 46 yard touchdown. He also scored on a fumble recovery return, and had 9.5 sacks.

His next two seasons were bereft with injuries, and he missed 12 games total.

He rebounded strong in the 1999 season, collecting 51 tackles. It is the only other season, besides 1998, when McGinest exceeded the 50 tackle mark in his career.

McGinest also scored a touchdown off a fumble recovery that year, and had nine quarterback sacks.

The Patriots were improving as a team during this time. In the 2001 season, they made the third Super Bowl appearance of the franchises history, and won for the first time.

McGinest earned his last Pro Bowl nod in 2003, as McGinest would score on a 15 yard interception return. The Patriots would go on to win Super Bowl XXXVIII that year, then would then win Super Bowl XXXIX the next year.

McGinest was moved back to OLB that season, a position he manned the next five years.

The 2005 season was Willie's last in New England, and he went out strong. During a Patriots playoff win, he set an NFL record with 4.5 sacks in one playoff game. This gave him a career total of 16 playoff quarterback sacks, which is also currently the NFL record.

After being cut by New England because of salary cap issues, he signed with the Cleveland Browns.

Though he would miss seven games over three years with the Browns because of assorted injuries, he pitched in eight sacks and an interception over that time.

Though McGinest has not officially retired from the game, it is expected he will do so soon.

He was a very good player, and one of the better pass rushers in Patriots history.






STRONG SAFETY : Lawyer Milloy




Milloy was drafted by the Patriots in 1996, a second round selection and 36th player picked overall.

He ended up starting ten games in his rookie year, intercepting two passes and getting a quarterback sack. The Patriots would go on to Super Bowl XXXI that season.

In 1998, he had a career high 6 interceptions, and scored the only touchdown of his career on an interception return. Milloy would be named to the Pro Bowl for this first time in his career as well.

He garnered this honor the next year, after getting a career best 91 tackles. He also had four interceptions and two sacks.

In 2001, Milloy returned to the Pro Bowl. The Patriots would go on to win Super Bowl XXXVI.

Milloy's last year in New England was 2002, and he made his last Pro Bowl that year as well.

After a contract dispute with the Patriots, Milloy signed with the Buffalo Bills. He played there three seasons, then signed with the Atlanta Falcons in 2006. He played with the Falcons for three seasons as well.

Lawyer Milloy was very solid in run support, and his four Pro Bowls are the most by any Patriots safety.

Roland James, who has the second most interceptions in Patriots franchise history, got strong consideration for this spot. Larry Whigham deserves mention, because he made the Pro Bowl.





FREE SAFETY : Ron Hall




Ron was a 28th round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1959 NFL Draft, the 331st player chosen overall.

He made the Steelers team for two games that year, and was able to intercept a pass, return a kickoff, and return five punts.

After not playing in 1960, he joined the Boston Patriots for the 1961 season. He quickly worked his way into the starting lineup and intercepted two passes.

Hall scored the only touchdown of his career the next year, when he took one of his three interceptions for a score.

He intercepted three more balls the next season, and was named to the Pro Bowl. The Patriots would make it all the way to the AFL Championship Game, before losing to the San Diego Chargers.

The 1964 season saw Hall pick off a career best 11 passes. He was named First Team All-AFL that year.

After swiping three passes the following season, Hall had six picks for a career best 159 yards in 1966. He took one ball a career long 87 yards, which led the AFL.

Hall's 1967 season will injury plagued. He was able to intercept one pass in the nine games he suited up for that year. He then retired from the game. He had at least one interception in each year he played.

When he retired, his 29 interceptions were the most in Patriots history until Raymond Clayborn passed that total in 1987. It now is the second most ever.

His 11 interceptions in 1964 are the most interceptions by any Patriot in a single season.

Though he might get forgotten by some, but Ron "Haystacks" Hall may be the best safety ever in Patriots franchise history.

Fred Bruney deserves mention. His two Pro Bowls are the most by a Patriots FS. Fred Marion and Tim Fox were also Pro Bowl players worth noting. Marion is tied with Hall and Roland James for having the second most interceptions in Patriots history.





CORNERBACK : Raymond Clayborn




Raymond was the first draft of the Patriots in the 1977 draft, the 16th player chosen overall.

New England used him mainly as an extra defensive back in his rookie year, choosing to use him mostly as a kick returner, though he did start two games and recorded the only safety of his career.

Clayborn exploded all over the NFL by scoring three touchdowns on 28 kickoff returns. His three kickoff return touchdowns in one season is a Patriots record, and tied for the second most in NFL history.

His 31 yards per kickoff return average led the NFL, and is in the top ten for rookies in NFL history. His 101 yard return that season also led the NFL.

Clayborn was a full time starter the next year, and would remain so the rest of his career. He intercepted four passes, and returned kickoffs for the last time of his career. He returned 27 balls at a 23.6 yard average.

He became one of the noted lock down cornerbacks over the next two seasons, when he intercepted five passes in each year.

Clayborn earned his first Pro Bowl in 1983, despite not having any interceptions.

The 1984 season saw Clayborn gain a career high 101 yards on three interceptions, including a career long return of 85 yards.

He returned to the Pro Bowl again in 1985, after having a career high six interceptions. One went for a touchdown.

His leadership helped propel the Patriots to an appearance in Super Bowl XX, where he recovered a fumble in their loss to the Chicago Bears.

Clayborn made his final Pro Bowl game in 1986, and would remain with the Patriots until the end of the 1989 season. He scored the last touchdown of his career in 1987 off of a missed field goal.

He signed with the Cleveland Browns that year, and started 13 games. Though he did not have an interception that year, he formed an impressive cornerback duo with Frank Minnifield for Cleveland.

After starting and playing in one game in 1991, he retired.

His 36 career interceptions with New England is tied with Ty Law as the most ever in franchise history. His 555 interception return yards is 28 less than Law's franchise leading total.

Raymond Clayborn is a member of the Patriots All-1970's, All-1980's, and 35th Anniversary teams.

It is confusing why he has yet to be inducted into the Patriots Hall Of Fame, because he might be the best defensive back in the teams history.




CORNERBACK : Ty Law



Ty was the Patriots first round draft pick in 1995, the 23rd player chosen overall.

He started in seven of the fourteen games he played in his rookie year, and intercepted three passes and had a quarterback sack.

He starter in 12 of the 13 games he appeared in the next season, and had three more interceptions. He took one for a touchdown. Law had three swipes the following year.

Law led the NFL with nine interceptions in 1995,and was named to his first All-Pro Team and Pro Bowl. He also scored again.

After having two picks over the next two seasons, Law was named to the Pro Bowl in 2001 after getting three interceptions and two touchdowns.

The Patriots would go on to win Super Bowl XXXVI that year.

Law made the Pro Bowl in each of the next two seasons, getting ten total interceptions and a touchdown.

The 2003 season saw Law get three interceptions in the AFC Championship Game, which allowed the Patriots to go on and win Super Bowl XXXVIII.

The Patriots repeated as Super Bowl Champions the next year, though Law missed 12 straight games because of injury.

The Patriots then cut Law because of salary cap issues, so he signed with the New York Jets for the 2005 season.

He led the NFL with a career best ten interceptions that year, as well as a career high 195 return yards. He also scored a touchdown on a career long 74 yard return.

Law then joined the Kansas City Chiefs the next year. He picked off four passes. After picking off two passes the following season, the Chiefs cut him.

He returned to the Jets for 2008, playing in seven games, but failed to intercept a pass for the first time in his career. The Jets then cut him at the end of the year.

Law currently has 52 interceptions and seven touchdowns in his career.

He had 36 interceptions for 583 yards and six touchdowns in ten seasons with the Patriots, all of which lead the franchise in those categories.

Ty Law is a member of the Patriots All-1990's Team, and is certainly one of the best cornerbacks in the teams history.


Chuck Shonta, Don Webb were both excellent players who started out at CB, then later made the Pro Bowl at Free Safety. Leroy Mitchell, Maurice Hurst, Ronnie Lippett, and Dick Felt also deserve mention.




PUNT RETURNER : Irving Fryar




Irving was the first player to be chosen in the 1984 draft, and the first wide receiver to ever attain this honor, when the Patriots selected him.

The Patriots brought him along slowly as a receiver his rookie year, as he caught 11 passes and scored once.

New England decided to use him as their primary punt returner, and he had 36 returns at a 9.6 yards per return average.

He led the NFL the next season with a 14.1 yards per return average, on 37 attempts. He also led the NFL with two touchdowns, as well as a career best 85 yard return.

Fryar also caught 39 passes, scoring seven times, at a 17.2 yards per catch average. He also rushed the ball a career high seven times, and scored the only rushing touchdown of his career.

He was named to his first Pro Bowl, and the Patriots would go on to appear in Super Bowl XX. It would be the only time Fryar played in the Super Bowl in his career.

Fryar caught 136 passes for 19 touchdowns over the next four seasons, including a career long 80 yard reception.He also was starting to get used less as a punt returner.

He took 131 punts for 1,188 yards and a touchdown. He would return the last two punts of his career in the 1991 season.

The 1990 season was the year Fryar established himself as a top receiver. He caught 54 balls that year, and had 68 the following year for 1,014 yards.

He then had 55 in 1992, and joined the Miami Dolphins the next season.

He returned to the Pro Bowl that year, after catching 64 balls for 1,010 yards. He went back to the Pro Bowl the following year after getting 73 balls for 1,270 yards.

Fryar joined the Philadelphia Eagles in 1996, and went back to the Pro Bowl after snagging a career best 88 passes for a career high 11 scores.

He made his last Pro Bowl the next year, after gaining a career high 1,316 yards on 86 receptions. After collecting 48 balls the next year, the Eagles released him.

Fryar joined the Washington Redskins in 1999, and was used mostly as a third receiver over the next two years. He caught 67 balls, while scoring seven times.

He retired after the 2000 season with 851 career receptions and 80 receiving touchdowns.

Fryar caught 363 passes for 38 scores with New England over nine seasons, but he made a tremendous mark as a punt returner too.

He had 206 returns at a solid 10 yard return average, while scoring three times.

He is ranked second in franchise history in returns and return yards behind Troy Brown, while being tied with Brown for having the most punt return touchdowns in Patriots history.

Brown, Dave Meggett, and Hall Of Fame Cornerback Mike Haynes deserve mention.