The image of Ty Law's hand in the air as he raced toward the end zone in Super Bowl XXXVI perfectly personifies the former Patriots cornerback. He was a star, and in that moment on that stage, Law was doing what he did best – making a huge play in a huge game. He loved the bright lights. Heck, if the Louisiana Superdome had a marquee, Law would have loved the pressure of having his name on there.
"Now Showing: Ty Law and the Patriots battle the Greatest Show on Turf"
He might have stared at that for a minute, admired it and said, "That looks good, now let's go beat the crap out of those guys."
He played with the edge that he knew he was going to beat you. And if you beat him, he'd line up on the next play like it never happened and he still knew he was going to beat you. It was that simple for him. He knew how good he was and that confidence spilled out of him without really crossing the line into an annoying arrogance. If he was a basketball player, he'd want the last shot. With the money on the table, he'd slide it all in.
So it was no surprise that it was Law dancing in the end zone with is buddy, Lawyer Milloy, after giving the Patriots a 7-3 lead over the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. Who else would it be?
To paraphrase Law and the defense's sentiments back then, "Those Rams receivers can win a 100-yard dash, but can they do it with someone in their faces hitting them all day?"
He answered that question when he hoisted the Lombardi Trophy over his head.
Law matched the other guy's speed and finesse with physicality, mental toughness, confidence and incredible playmaking skills. He did it to the tune of 59 regular- and postseason interceptions, seven of which he returned for touchdowns. He was a shutdown corner who could eliminate half the field – a rare commodity.
On February 4, exactly 15 years and one day after he helped the Patriots win their first Super Bowl title, he will learn if he will be hanging a gold Pro Football Hall-of-fame jacket beside his sharp, red Patriots Hall-of-Fame blazer. After two years of making it to the final 25, Law is in the final 15.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has seen a few cornerbacks play over his 42 years as an NFL coach. So he knows a thing or two about hall-of-fame talent.
"He certainly deserves it," Belichick said for a recent episode of Kraft Sports Production's Patriots All Access television show. "He had a great career. He was not only a good coverage player, he had great hands, could intercept the ball. He was big, physical and could tackle. There wasn't a weakness to his game. He was very competitive – played the run, played the pass and also played big in big games. So he's very worthy of that hall-of-fame recognition."
That says plenty, but doesn't say it all. Sure, Law possessed all those skills and undeniably played big in big games, but he also did it while begging to cover the other team's star.
Who's the best receiver on the other team? Law wanted that guy and he wasn't afraid to demand it regardless of whether the receiver was on the left, right or in the slot. Most corners play one side of the field. Not Law.
Marvin Harrison – Ty's got him. Isaac Bruce – Put Ty on him. Eric Moulds – Ty will take him. Michael Irvin, Jerry Rice, Andre Reed, Terrell Owens, Steve Smith, Rod Smith, Keyshawn Johnson – Ty wants those guys too.
That's the way it was every week and if the game plan called for something different, Law would be salty. He once shared a story about how Belichick would push his buttons. It went something like this: "Bill would walk into the meeting room and say, 'Ty, you're going to take Reggie [Wayne] and we're going to double Marvin [Harrison],' and I'd say, 'Like hell we are. I got Marvin.' And he was just saying that to get me going. He knew he was putting me on Harrison."
He loved those matchups against elite receivers and standout quarterbacks. The list of quarterbacks he intercepted include Jim Kelly, Troy Aikman, Peyton Manning, Boomer Esiason, Steve Young, Steve McNair, Kurt Warner, Drew Bledsoe and a slew of others. And he stole those passes intended for the likes of Reed, Irvin, Keyshawn, T.O., Yancey Thigpen, Bruce, Moulds and more.
Manning is currently the most prolific passer in NFL history with 71,940 passing yards for 539 touchdowns. He also threw 251 career regular-season interceptions and Law picked him off four times, second only to Terrell Buckley's five. Add Manning's 25 postseason interceptions and Law leapfrogs Buckley with nine total interceptions against the future hall-of-fame quarterback. Of the 25 picks Manning threw in the playoffs, Law grabbed five of those – three in the 2003 AFC Championship game and two more when he faced Manning as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. Law is one of three players to return two Manning interceptions for touchdowns.
If Manning had a hall-of-fame vote, he'd surely cast it for Law.
Of the 16 cornerbacks currently in The Pro Football Hall of Fame, Law is 10th in regular season interceptions (53), seventh in return yards (828) and fourth in interceptions returned for touchdowns (7). Only two other hall-of-fame cornerbacks – Herb Adderly and Mel Blount – won as many championships as Law. Also, Law never moved to safety to extend his career and pad his interception total.
So while patience may indeed be a virtue, to deny Law a bust in Canton at this point is just silly. He deserves to be there. He passes every test one could imagine, including the all-important eye test. He has the statistics. He has the championships. He had the impact. Now he needs the gold jacket and the bust to complete the picture.
A bust in Canton beats a name in lights.