Of the nine annual meetings of the Patriots Hall of Fame committee, this year's was unquestionably the most intriguing.
There were 10 individuals nominated for induction, and all have worthy credentials and warranted some spirited give and take among the members. But unlike in recent seasons, there was no one candidate that stood above the rest, and certainly no slam-dunk case among the group.
So, without the benefit of an easy pick – like Ty Law last year – there was a lot of thought given to this year's choices. After listening to the cases for each nominee, I narrowed my list down to six – Bill Parcells, Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel, Willie McGinest, Leon Gray and Raymond Clayborn.
In my mind each of these individuals is worthy of induction, but I was particularly interested in hearing about Gray and Clayborn since their careers began in the 1970s when I was too young to fully appreciate their contributions. Clayborn's career spanned into the 1980s so I was a little more familiar with him than Gray, but the perspective of people who played with him like Andre Tippettand Steve Grogan was much appreciated.
Harrison, Vrabel and McGinest all received plenty of support – and rightly so given their contributions to title-winning teams and their impact on them. McGinest has the longevity factor working in his favor but Vrabel and Harrison each were major factors in the team's success.
The most controversial member of my half dozen candidates is Parcells. I feel his presence completely changed the franchise's fortunes, bringing instant credibility and respect to New England. He compiled a ton of talent, much of which remained as the nucleus of the Super Bowl teams in 2001, 2003-04. Parcells also brought a guy named Belichick to the Patriots, a move that allowed Robert Kraft to meet the eventual four-time title-winning coach.
Of course many argue that Parcells' selfish nature cost the team a chance to win Super Bowl XXXI, and the manner in which he left the organization still stings to this day.
In the end, I had as much trouble making my choices this year as any but this is what I finally handed in:
- Parcells – Despite the ugly finish, his stature legitimized what was a joke of a franchise and in many ways was the foundation of what was to come.
- Gray –I feel he was the best player nominated today. He was part of an offensive line with John Hannah that allowed the Patriots to rush for 3,150 yards. That's a record, and it might never be broken.
- Vrabel – Big plays on defense and offense highlighted the linebacker's Patriots career. His hit on Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XXXVI led to Law's pick-six, and his TD catch in Super Bowl XXXIX are just a couple.
So that's how I voted. My feeling is most did not see things the same as I did, and I'll be curious to see the results when they are posted on Patriots.com April 16. And I'll be even more curious to see how the fans vote thereafter.