(Willie McGinest photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)
Talk of Fame Network
The New England Patriots have been the most dominant team of the millennium … and, if you want to say dynasty, yeah, well, they're the dynasty of the 2000 decade. They’ve gone to six Super Bowls in the past 16 years, winning four, and are on a run of five straight conference championship games.
But here's the question: Outside of quarterback Tom Brady, who from those teams is a Hall of Famer waiting to happen? Adam Vinatieri? Maybe, though there's only on kicker in the Hall, period. Randy Moss. Another maybe, though he played on one Super Bowl team … and it didn’t win the championship. Cornerback Ty Law? He's failed to make it as a finalist in his first two years of eligibility.
But then what? Well, that’s the question we posed former linebacker Willie McGinest, who is on the Hall-of-Fame's preliminary list for the Class of 2017, but who has never been a semifinalist. For a franchise that produced so many victories and championships it may not produce many Hall of Famers.
And McGinest is a textbook example why. He was an invaluable member of an underrated defense in the early 2000s, setting an NFL playoff record with 16 career sacks, including 4-1/2 in one game. He could play down. He could play up. He could rush the passer. He could drop into coverage. He could do almost anything … except get the attention of Hall-of-Fame voters.
Ironically, the versatility that made him so valuable to New England may make him dispensable in the eyes of voters who look for a candidate to dominate his position – with the idea that if you play several, as McGinest did, you could get penalized.
"Absolutely," McGinest said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. "And I think the voters should take that into consideration. And let's be clear: I played the game to win Super Bowls. I didn’t play the game to go to Pro Bowls. I didn’t play the game to go to the Hall of Fame. That was never on my mind when I was playing. I wanted to win Super Bowls. In my opinion, anybody playing in the NFL ... that's the No. 1 goal. Anything else … all the accolades that come … is icing on the cake."
McGinest, now an analyst for the NFL Network, won three Super Bowls with New England and was a two-time Pro Bowler. But he's never made it to the final 25 candidates in the annual Hall-of-Fame voting, and he believes the system the Patriots play has something to do with that … and with someone like Law, his former teammate, failing to make the cut to 15.
"In our system in New England, your role changes every single week," he said. "If I was strictly a pass rusher, I would probably have over 125 ... whatever it is ... 100-plus sacks. Because if you just pass-rush like a lot of pass rushers who are in the Hall of Fame, and that's all you do, you have more opportunities to get just sacks.
"But in our system I would say 25 or 30 percent… maybe even more … of the time the game plan dictated whether I rushed or whether I was in coverage. And if we played teams that threw the ball or presented certain problems, guess what? My rush opportunities were going to be limited. And I was fine with that because my mindset was I was going to do whatever was best for the team.
"Mike Vrabel was the same way. Tedy Bruschi was the same way. Roman Phifer. Teddy Johnson. Everybody was on the same page when it came to that. And I didn’t get the opportunity to rush a lot. That’s fine with me. Because my job was to do what the coach asked me to do for that particular week … and it changed every single week. And I wouldn’t trade that in. I wouldn’t trade my assignment, I wouldn’t trade my loyalty to my teammates, I wouldn’t trade me having over 100 sacks versus the sacks and numbers I have now for nothing. Because all that did was give me opportunities to win Super Bowls."