In recognition of the NFL's celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, this edition of Gameday's Alumni Spotlight honors Rich Camarillo, an Hispanic member of the Patriots 50th Anniversary Team.
An NFL career that spanned 16 years and five teams. Five Pro Bowl appearances. NFL records for punting. And a member of the Patriots 50th Anniversary Team.
Not a bad resume for a guy from Pico Rivera, Calif. who was happy to even make an NFL roster.
"Just to be in the pros was something," former Patriots punter Rich Camarillo said. "As a kid, I never thought I'd get there."
In fact, Camarillo did not make the Patriots' roster on his first try. He was cut from the team during training camp.
"I went home and I was back in California plastering with my father for his plastering business," he said. "Then I got the call back from the Patriots. They were going to give me another shot to see how I did. If I didn't work out, they were going to get somebody else."?
On a two-game trial basis, Camarillo knew he needed to impress the Patriots from the beginning. But his career had an ominous beginning when one of his punts in his first game was returned for a touchdown.
"I remember when that guy was running all the way, I saw the back of his shirt thinking, 'I'm out of here tomorrow,'" Camarillo said. "I didn't ever want that feeling again where I saw the back of a guy as he was scoring."
Not only did the Patriots keep Camarillo around, he wouldn't have that feeling again for 14 years.
"They kept me around. That was 1981. I didn't have another punt returned until 1994," Camarillo said. "I took pride in allowing no returns. Nobody took one back on me all that time. And there was a few times when I was the last guy, but I hoped I was athletic enough to at least push the guy out of bounds. There were quite a few times when I had to make tackles."
Seven of those years (1981-87) were spent with the Patriots. During that time, he appeared in one Pro Bowl and one Super Bowl. He led the NFL in net punting yards in 1983 to earn his first Pro Bowl selection.
"Making the team was special," he said. "But then making that first Pro Bowl was just something that my dad had told me, 'If you go on and play ten years, if you can make one Pro Bowl just one time, you knew you were the best in the league, that would be something really special to all of us.'"
Camarillo would make four more Pro Bowl appearances (1989, 1991-1993) with the Phoenix Cardinals.
Camarillo attributes his individual kicking success in Phoenix to the weather, but his greatest team success came with New England in 1985.
"The biggest highlight of the Super Bowl run back in 1985 for me was when we beat the Dolphins in the Orange Bowl because we had never won there during the time I was there," Camarillo said. "Winning that game, that's the one you want to win. When the game was over, just to know that we were going to the Super Bowl was awesome. That was the best feeling that I had ever had in the pros."
While the Patriots did not fare as Camarillo would have hoped on Super Bowl Sunday, he did set a personal mark in the game. He set a Super Bowl record for longest punt, booting one 62-yards and pinning the Bears at the 4-yard line.
"We were sitting in the locker room before the game, and I was looking through the game book to kill time. I was looking at all the Super Bowl records, and I saw the 61-yard punt was the longest punt," Camarillo said. "I remember just thinking it would be cool to break a Super Bowl record. I remember when they flashed 'New Super Bowl Record' up on the scoreboard after that punt, I was glad it happened."
Camarillo's 62-yard punt now ranks second on the all-time Super Bowl list behind a 63-yard punt in Super Bowl XXII by Cincinnati's Lee Johnson.
Camarillo didn't just kick it for distance during his career. He also helped the defense by having a good net average. He aimed for coffin corners and tried to pin teams inside the 20. His career single-season net average punting high of 39.6-yards at one point ranked first in the NFL.
"Obviously, for a punter that's what you look at," Camarillo said. "If a guy kicks it 60-yards, but they run it back all the time, that's not so good. I always said, 'If I kick the ball to the 5-yard line, I've helped the defense.'"
Proud of the length of his punts, Camarillo is also proud of the longevity he had in the NFL as a player of Hispanic heritage.
"That's probably what I'm most proud of: being Hispanic, being one of the very few, and also making a mark. Lasting a long time and having success at that level is really special to me," Camarillo said.
Although he experienced success with the Rams, Cardinals, Oilers and Raiders over his 16-year career, he will always consider himself a Patriot.
"The Patriots were a team as a kid that I actually liked," Camarillo said. "They'll always be my first team. Yes, I had success on the Cardinals, but deep down I'm a Patriot because this was my first team. It's like your first love: the Patriots are something special to me. I'm still a New England Patriot now."
Camarillo said he was honored after being voted as a member of the 50th Anniversary Team last year.
"For them to call me and say you've been selected as the all-time punter for the Patriots, it was just indescribable. It's unbelievable. I can't believe that all this stuff has happened to me," he said.
Now retired, Camarillo looks back on his time with the Patriots humbly.
"I don't know if I've ever done this in a public forum, but I just would like to thank the New England fans for the support they have for me. My seven years there were an awesome time in my life. I just want to thank the fans because they were always good to me."