By Sterling Pingree
I have built monuments to the four greatest players of all-time for the Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins, leaving us with only the Patriots remaining. The Patriots list is unquestionably the most difficult to construct of the big four Boston teams. There are common characteristics that the Patriots abide by however. Like Ted & Yaz, Bird & Russell and Orr & Bourque, the Patriots have a clear cut top two choices. However, beyond this top two, things get incredibly difficult to quantify. How do you compare eras? Do you put a premium on players from the 2000’s because of the overall success of the franchise? More arduous to figure is this: how do you compare a left tackle to a wide receiver to a running back to a linebacker?
There have been hard and fast rules in compiling these lists and one is that in the case of all things being even, the nod will go to the player with the greatest team loyalty/longevity. Without further ado, sorry to those of you that were clamoring for some more ado, here is my New England Patriots Mount Rushmore.
What is there to say about Tom Brady that hasn’t already been said? If you really think about it, we have run the gauntlet of everything that could possibly be said about a human being in the public spotlight. Coming into the league Brady was knocked harder than Rick Porcello this month: he was too slow, he wasn’t athletic enough, couldn’t throw the deep ball, wasn’t that accurate, and would never be a starter in the NFL because he wasn’t at Michigan. Then Brady came to New England, started running off titles and suddenly the narrative has become that #12 is The Greatest of All Time: G.O.A.T. After Super Bowl 49, there were still those Patriot-haters out there who refused to give Brady his just desserts but I think that after the comeback in Super Bowl 51, even his dissenters have evaporated. Not only is the Patriots Mount Rushmore incomplete without Tom Brady, the NFL’s would be as well, no matter how badly the commissioner wishes otherwise.
People discuss ad nauseum who the greatest quarterback of all-time is, at least they did before this year’s Super Bowl. But the Patriots are the only home for another player that has been deemed the best ever to play his position and that is John Hannah. Hannah was dubbed by Sports Illustrated in 1981 as “The best offensive lineman of all-time” and then he played 5 more years. Hannah is still the benchmark that offensive linemen are measured against. As a left guard, Hannah blew up defensive ends and then pulverized linebackers who dared veer into his path. #73 was a player who took the fight to the defense and on sweeps I firmly believe he struck fear in the hearts of those lined up against him. It’s generally hard to quantify how good offensive linemen are because of the lack of statistics but here is one that will cast a bright light on just how good John Hannah was. In 1978, the New England Patriots rushed for 3,165 yards as a team, which is a record that not only still stands, it’s one that most think will never be broken. Only one other team has ever rushed for over 3,000 yards as a team and that was the “Electric Company” Buffalo Bills team in 1973 that blocked for OJ Simpson. In 40 years, the Patriots mark or 3,165 hasn’t been threatened and may never be again.
The first two players on this monument are widely considered to be the best ever at their respective positions. The third honoree here is without question on the short list best in his area as well. Rob Gronkowski is enshrined here with the shortest track record of anybody added to this list. He was drafted in 2010 and hasn’t stopped amazing, entertaining and astounding Patriots fans since. Gronk is perhaps the most unique football player I’ve ever seen. At his size, with his athleticism, the performance on the field is something to behold. He is the only player I have ever seen in sports that when he performs, all I can do is laugh. There is no more innocent laughter in this world than that of a small child enjoying the simple pleasures in life. This is what I sound like watching Gronk play football. If Arnold Schwarzenegger made a football movie in 1984, his character would have essentially been a prequel to Rob Gronkowski’s career as a Patriot.
The last spot on this list is the hardest single spot of any of the Rushmores in this series. I took to social media to solicit opinions. There was a lot of love to Julian Edelman, Ty Law and surprisingly so for Mike Haynes. Troy Brown was a name that might have come up the most. Gino Cappelletti made a late push for the list, people forget that he was the 1964 AFL MVP as a kicker/receiver. Wes Welker got a lot more love than Randy Moss, which seems about right. I pushed the discussion to the importance of Drew Bledsoe to the franchise and I was met with a lot of resistance but support for Steve Grogan. I was surprised Vince Wilfork and Willie McGinest’s names weren’t mentioned more. In the end it came down to two linebackers: Andre Tippett and Tedy Bruschi. Tippett is a hall of famer who recorded 100 sacks and had 18.5 sacks in a single season. Some have said that Tippett was as close to being Lawrence Taylor’s equal of any linebacker of his time.
With all of that being said, I’m giving the final spot on this list to Tedy Bruschi. The deciding factors here are found in the intangibles. Great players aren’t great all the time, only when they have to be and Tedy Bruschi was a great player. Bruschi was the captain and the emotional motor of a defense that won 3-Super Bowls, which that has to count for something. After winning three rings, Bruschi suffered a stroke and battled back to not only play the following season, he won the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award. You want numbers? Tedy Bruschi had 12 career interceptions and took four of those back for touch downs. The play that jumps to mind when I think about #54 is in the 2005 AFC Divisional round vs Indy where the Pats defense is smothering the Colts. Peyton Manning threw a screen to Dominic Rhodes, Bruschi was right there. As Tedy tackled Rhodes to the slush covered Gillette Stadium turf, Bruschi ripped the ball from Rhodes grasp. I don’t know what this was, other than the fact that it was a turn over. It wasn’t a fumble because the ball wasn’t dropped or bobbled and it wasn’t an interception because Rhodes had run with the ball. There was no argument from the Colts or the officials, it was Patriots ball and the play was a perfect symbol for the Colts/Patriots “rivalry” of that time.
Bill Belichick, through uncharacteristic emotion, said it best when the coach was asked to describe Tedy Bruschi after the announcement of his retirement: “He’s a perfect player.” Who am I to argue?
Tom Brady. John Hannah. Rob Gronkowski. Tedy Bruschi. Three offensive players and one defensive. All important to a franchise that owns one less Lombardi Trophy than the most all-time. Other lists may look different than mine, but the thing we can agree on is that having too many all-time great players is a wonderful problem to have.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on 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.