The role of the so-called third-down back has been a vital one in Foxborough for the better part of 25 years. From David Meggett to Kevin Faulk to Danny Woodhead to Shane Vereen, shifty pass catching backs have made crucial contributions to the Patriots for years.
James White was the latest to fill that role, and in terms of impact at the spot he took a backseat to no one.
Some running backs have blazing speed and others have the size to move the pile. Some have soft hands and the ability to pick up the blitz while others possess uncanny vision to make tacklers miss. In truth, White didn't have all of those skills, but his combination of many of them made him one of the most productive backs in Patriots history.
The man known as Sweet Feet officially retired from the Patriots after a terrific eight-year career. He leaves behind not a Hall of Fame resume but a more than respectable one filled with significant achievements worth remembering.
First and foremost was his performance in Super Bowl LI, when he set a record with 14 catches and accounted for a record 20 points in New England's epic 34-28 overtime comeback win over Atlanta. He was instrumental that night in Houston, making play after play when a single misstep may have meant defeat during the furious late rally. White culminated the magical evening with the only overtime touchdown in Super Bowl history, his third of the game.
A couple years later he notched 15 receptions in a divisional round victory over the Chargers en route to another Super Bowl title in 2018. Since 2015 no running back in football had more receptions (376) or receiving touchdowns (25) than White, and his 3,255 receiving yards ranked second.
White also was a Patriots captain for four straight seasons, a testament to the respect he generated among his teammates.
The latter fact has been evident countless times, but none more so than on a September night in Seattle in 2020 when the Patriots took on the Seahawks while White was inactive in the wake of a horrible tragedy. The night prior to the game, White's parents, Tyrone and Lisa, were involved in a car accident that cost Tyrone his life and left Lisa in critical condition.
Early in the game Devin McCourty intercepted a Russell Wilson pass and returned it for a touchdown. Looking into NBC's end zone camera, McCourty let everyone know the Patriots had White in mind by saying "We love you two eight."
On the field and off, White was the personification of class and an instrumental part of the team's success. His professionalism will be missed, and his production won't be easy to duplicate.