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A moment like no other

The New England Patriots honor their 13 Hall of Famers during a special reinduction ceremony at Gillette Stadium.


John Hannah and Steve Grogan.

Looking as fit and trim as he was during his playing days, former New England Patriots cornerback Mike Haynes probably could've stepped out of retirement and back onto the field during Saturday's inaugural Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Gillette Stadium.

John Hannah would've joined him.

"I wish I could go back and do it all over again," said the former nine-time Pro Bowl guard. "I miss hitting people!"

Saturday's festivities provided the perfect backdrop for 10 of the 11 living members of the Patriots' Hall of Fame to relive their greatest memories and receive their customary red blazers from team owner Robert Kraft.

The ceremony – the first of its kind since the opening of The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon – featured a brief video montage of each Hall of Famer, including the late Jim Lee Hunt and Bob Dee, and former offensive lineman Bruce Armstrong, who was unable to attend. Once on stage, the players split into groups by decade and engaged in a question-and-answer session with co-host Gil Santos – the longtime radio voice of the Patriots – in which they shared stories profiling the lighter side of their NFL careers.

"I'm living my dream here today," Kraft said. "I'm fortunate to have watched each of our 13 members play during their careers. This brings back nearly 50 years of memories, so I guess I have to stop telling people I feel like I'm 28."

A large gathering of fans filled the seats in front of the main stage at The Hall while others roamed the concourse adjacent to Patriot Place. Other than linebacker Andre Tippett, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last month, the loudest ovation went to the lone member of this year's class, tight end Ben Coates.

A fifth-round pick in the 1991 draft, Coates caught 499 passes and 50 touchdowns over the span of his 10-year career while establishing himself as former quarterback Drew Bledsoe's favorite target during the Patriots' revival in the mid-1990s.

"When Drew got here, he threw a quick, hard, fast ball that got there quickly," Coates said. "It was the kind of ball you loved as a receiver because it got there fast enough and gave you time to protect yourself when you knew you were going to get hit."

As an unknown commodity coming out of Livingston College, Coates played with a self-admitted chip on his shoulder and proved his doubters wrong, earning five trips to the Pro Bowl and a spot on the NFL's All-Decade Team for the '90s.

"I shot for the stars," Coates said. "Look where I am now."

Coates wasn't the only member of the Patriots' Hall of Fame to get overlooked coming out of college. Linebacker Nick Buoniconti was a 13th-round pick in the 1962 American Football League (AFL) draft while kicker and wide receiver Gino Cappelletti played in the Ontario Rugby Football League (ORFU) in Canada before earning a spot on the Boston Patriots' roster following a tryout in 1960.

"After about five hours on draft day, I wasn't even sniffing the draft," Buoniconti said, but I don't regret it because I loved every minute of being a Boston Patriot. We were the fertilizer for the Super Bowl teams they have today because without us there would be no growth."

Cappelletti, who has been Santos' radio partner for 27 years, is one of only 20 players in the AFL for its entire 10-year existence and one of only three who played in every one of his team's games during that stretch. The Patriots played their home games at four different stadiums from 1960 to 1970, often in front of sparse crowds.

"This probably a bigger crowd than what we had at our first few games," Cappelletti said, "but I always had a burning desire to play football."

Quarterback Vito "Babe" Parilli shared those moments with Cappelletti and Buoniconti, specifically Cappelletti, who caught seven of Parilli's 31 touchdown passes in 31 – a single-season franchise record for 43 years until Tom Brady broke the mark last season.

"It took me five or six years to feel like I could be the leader of a team like the Patriots," Parilli said. "There was no 'I' in team. Those were among the best teams I've ever seen."

Each member of the Patriots' Hall of Fame has his own distinction among the annals of franchise history, including Haynes, who – in addition to intercepting 28 passes during his seven years in New England – also scored the team's first-ever touchdown on a punt return as a rookie in 1976.

"I did the same thing in a preseason game against Cleveland, but I celebrated too early and spiked the ball on the 5-yard line," Haynes said with a laugh. "Hey, it happens. I learned my lesson the second time."

Tippett learned his the hard way.

"Unlike how we do things now, back then we had four weeks of training camp and the rookies were there 10 days before everyone else," recalled the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker. "I thought it was easy until the veterans showed up.

"That day, I got introduced to Lin Dawson, Sam Cunningham and Tony Collins. I got hit so hard, I called my old high school coach and asked if he had any job openings available because I didn't think I'd make it. I ultimately grew to love this game more than before I arrived."

Fellow linebacker Steve Nelson also felt his share of pain through the years, most notably during a game against the Baltimore Colts in which he had to be carried off the field after injuring his knee, but remained on the sidelines to encourage his teammates.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Nelson said. "When you're hurt, you can't contribute, so I figured I could become a cheerleader for the afternoon."

The two players who shared perhaps the greatest bond among the members of the Patriots' Hall of Fame are quarterback Steve Grogan and wide receiver Stanley Morgan, who spent 12 years together from 1977 to 1988.

Morgan topped 1,000 receiving yards three times with the Patriots and averaged 19.4 yards per catch. He's also ranked No. 1 all-time in franchise history in career yards and touchdowns.

"It was extremely hard to overthrow Stanley," Grogan said.

Added Morgan: "I remember a game against Denver where the safety blitzed, which was my read to get up to the defensive back quickly and make my move.

"After I caught the DB, I looked up and saw the football here," he said while pointing high above his head, "so I dropped my head and ran as hard I could and caught it on my fingertips for a touchdown. Steve's jumping up and down celebrating and I told him, 'Don't you ever do that to me again!'"

The fans marveled at the stories and took one last opportunity to see the Hall of Famers standing next to one another as they walked out onto the balcony above the stage to wave goodbye to the crowd.

"This was an honor to be here with these guys," Coates said. "Some guys never get the chance to be here."

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