By Mark Paulette
Is there anything more Patriot-esque than having your status for the game be in the air all week, only to then turn in the greatest receiving game in franchise postseason history? That’s what Chris Hogan did in last Sunday’s AFC Championship game, reeling in nine passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Hogan ranked second in the NFL in yards per reception during the regular season, but also only had 38 catches in 15 games while never seeing more than a few targets per game. Yet in typical Patriots fashion, his number was called and he was the “next man up.” Let’s take a look at another typically atypical path to the record books.
As it turns out, Hogan and I aren’t so different. We both are very happy Tom Brady is the quarterback of the Pats, neither of us were drafted by an NFL team and we had similar college careers, with Hogan catching just 12 more passes than I did. Now let me clear something up…I didn’t play college football.
Hogan played just one year of collegiate ball at Monmouth in 2010, where he had 12 receptions for 147 yards and three touchdowns. He was actually a more prominent defensive player, racking up 28 tackles and three interceptions from the cornerback position. Prior to that, “Hoges” played three years of lacrosse at Penn State, captaining the team as a senior while scoring 29 goals and receiving first-team All-Conference honors.
If his versatility on the football field along with his passion for the sport of lacrosse, one rivaled by his current head coach, wasn’t enough of a ‘Patriot-way’ resume builder, Hogan embarked on a route shared by many who come under the eventual guidance of the man in the hood.
In late July of 2011, Hogan signed as an undrafted free agent with the San Francisco 49ers. He was released 38 days later. Then on September 12 he was signed to the practice squad of the Giants, lasting all of 11 days with the G-Men. It was over three months until the next team bit on Hogan, when the Dolphins snatched him off the streets in late December and signed him to a reserve/future contract, giving him a spot in their 2012 training camp.
Here, the 6’1” journeyman became one of the stars of the HBO show Hard Knocks, burning teammates on the practice field which led to Reggie Bush dubbing Hogan “7’Eleven,” because “he was always open.” Once again, Hogan lasted a little more than a month, making it to the final cuts before being tossed aside by the Fish. To their credit, Miami did double back and signed him to their practice squad. But by September 11, 2012, Hogan was once again jobless.
At 24 years old, Hogan finally got his break when he found his way onto the practice squad of the Buffalo Bills in November 2012, his fourth team in 16 months. This time he stuck, making the active roster six weeks later. He made his debut and caught his first pass in a loss at Cleveland on 10/3/13. His first TD came on 10/12/14, an 8-yard strike delivered by Kyle Orton. In total, he caught 87 passes for 959 yards and six touchdowns from ’13-’15. Those numbers where enough to earn Hogan a 3-year/$12-million contract offer from the Pats, with $7.5-million guaranteed. With right of first refusal, that’s exactly what Rex and the Bills did, as Hogan’s average splits of 29/320/2 were hardly worth $4-million a year. (The Patriots knew Buffalo couldn’t match the offer and if they did, they’d be taking a cap hit they couldn’t afford purely to spite New England.)
There was no track record, there were no flashy numbers or highlight plays. The league once again overlooked Hogan, but as has happened time and again throughout history; one man saw something in the converted lacrosse star, a man who has built an empire on scrap heaps and castaways. Before this season, Hogan had his best game as a pro on November 23, 2015 against, you guessed it, the New England Patriots when he had 6 catches for 95 yards. Belichick is always scouting.
So of course when the stakes were at their highest, it was Hogan rising to meet the occasion head on. A man who like most Patriots should not have been on the field had fate had its way with him. Yet, for 45 minutes of the AFC Championship, Chris Hogan was the best player on the field because, of course, that’s just how the curious case of Chris Hogan had to work out.
Mark Paulette is the PVC of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.