PATRIOTS HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE MIKE VRABEL
May 4, 2023
MV: I think most of the people on here, I would imagine, are from the Boston area and a lot of them covered me and I want to thank them for that and obviously, thank the Kraft family. There's a lot of people to thank, and everybody that's congratulated me. You know, I said there was a lot of amazing people that made those eight years possible and special, and I think we all benefited from it. So, a lot of thank-yous that I'm sure we'll get to, but I want to appreciate you guys and thank you guys for being on here and covering this.
Q: First of all congratulations and secondly, what does this mean to you, especially to join with the class that I think you're the eighth member of the three-time Super Bowl crew to get in. What does that mean to you to be a part of that group and to be a part of the Hall of Fame now?
MV: Well, you don't really know, I guess. You kind of think, 'Man, it's obviously special being a part of a group that started in 2001 with the number of new players on that roster and kind of grew and built something that we all could be proud of, that we all could fight for and want to be part of.' Obviously, we figured we were going to have to stand in line for a few years that the great players that were there and going up against murderer's row, I guess. But I think it's just something I don't think I ever thought of when I went there. I can remember visiting there in 2001, and I would've never dreamt that something like this would happen.
Q: Take us back to 2001. Think about where you were at that moment, with Jen and I think Tyler and Carter?
MV: Carter wasn't even born yet.
Q: You came here from Pittsburgh. What do you remember about that? Where'd you settle? Easton?
MV: Yep. Easton/Norton. We made home over there, Easton/Norton. And it was just a unique transition. It was one where the Steelers and I – I always laughed about it with Coach [Bill] Cowher and saying, 'Hey, we can offer you the same amount of money, but what we can't offer you is the opportunity. And the opportunity was to go and earn a starting position, which was something I didn't have in Pittsburgh or something I wasn't able to earn in Pittsburgh. And then we kind of grew as a family. We grew when Carter was born on November 20th right before the Super Bowl, so he was a baby down in New Orleans and Tyler was little. And so, it kind of all took off from there and I was able to spend a lot of time up there and meet a lot of great friends and people.
Q: Congrats, first off. And second, kind of building upon that, how did you go about establishing yourself and getting that opportunity? And also, you also created an identity for yourself as a leader within a group that had a lot of really good leaders, how did you go about creating that?
MV: Well, I think the first thing was being there and knowing what to do. That was something that was important for me, going in and learning the defense. You know, we laughed with Rob Ryan yesterday over text, but Ted Johnson was in there, obviously, and Tedy [Bruschi] and Willie [McGinest] and Roman Phifer was a part of that group that signed in 2001. But really Ted and Tedy and Willie were the players that taught me what it was like, and I wanted to impress them by how much I knew and what I was able to do on the field. And I was trying to earn their respect by obviously playing well and being able to communicate the defense and talk through things and then we laughed with Rob Ryan yesterday. I said, Rob, you have one of the greatest lines I've ever heard from a coach. He used to say, 'Well, if the head coach asked, we covered it,' and we all would laugh and run out of there and he was referring to, if Bill [Belichick] ever asked like, 'Hey, what are these guys doing?' Rob would be like, 'Well, we covered it.' And me and Tedy and Ted and Willie would all laugh. So, that's what I remember, going into that room and in old Foxboro Stadium, meeting with those guys and really in the spring just trying to earn their respect.
Q: I want to ask you about the 20th anniversary of the 2003 team as well this season and what stands out to you about that group? And if you had to pick one of those three championship teams to play in a must win game, which team would you pick?
MV: Well, I mean, I think that the team got more talented as the years went on. Whether it be the 2004 (team) was probably better than '03, and '03 was probably more talented than '01. But I would imagine that you'd picked the 2004 team. But the one that I think everybody's going to embrace is going to be the 2001 (team). We were 5-5 in Thanksgiving, and we win nine games in a row after Thanksgiving. That to me is something that I'll always remember us coming together, us figuring it out, everything that all the new pieces, new players, Tom [Brady] coming in at quarterback and just the way that we were able to find ways to win football games and especially down the stretch and how we played after Thanksgiving.
Q: Hey Mike. Thinking about a conversation we had with Coach Belichick back in 2018, he was talking about how you guys always had some friendly banter during practice, busting each other's chops. I'm wondering, when was it at first broached to you to play tight end in in red zone area? Was it his idea? Was it your idea? Was it someone else's idea?
MV: No, I mean, I think probably Charlie Weis and Drew [Bledsoe]. I used to warm up with Drew, just go out before the game, a couple hours before, goof around, run routes. I didn't want to sit at my locker if I got there early, so I wanted to do something. And I said, well, you know, let's go out and catch balls for the quarterback. So I would mess around with Drew and then I think he might've said, 'Hey,' to Charlie, 'This guy could probably actually do something,' And it never materialized. Then I think maybe the next year, they might've said, 'Hey, give this a try. Learn the plays,' My first touchdown was in San Diego, and we lost. So nobody really talked about it, and then it kind of just materialized from there. But probably Charlie Weis and Drew probably came up with the idea.
Q: Do you remember what Bill's reaction was when it was presented to him?
MV: I wasn't in there when it was presented. I don't know. I wasn't in there when they talked about it. I think that they just said, 'Hey, we're going to do this, learn the plays, and we'll practice it today.'
Q: Congratulations. I can imagine you've been receiving a lot of messages from former Patriots teammates. What would you say is the biggest compliment you can receive from someone you went to battle with?
MV: That you pushed them, that you deserve this, that you earned this, that you had their back. Those are always things that you appreciate coming from a teammate or somebody that you played with. We had a lot of great people and great guys to play next to. Bobby Hamilton or Richard Seymour, or Ty Law or Jarvis Green. I mean, those were guys that I would line up a few feet from for the entire season or multiple seasons, and that was always something that was really cool. And then obviously the relationship in the linebacker room.
Q: Congratulations on the honor. This is going to fall to us once we finish this call, but as far as capturing your eight years here, the Super Bowls, all the memories, the moments, how would you best define your time here in New England?
MV: I think obviously very rewarding. It certainly set me up I think, for a great future, whether that was to be able to transition to Kansas City and help lead or ultimately become a coach. I loved coming to work with the players, and I think that that's something that I'll always miss, is what we had in the locker room and I still always want to try to recreate what we did there where the players were the ones that were trying to hold each other accountable, and not in a negative way, but just in a positive way, and how you push guys and how you work and how you want to prepare.
Q: So it sounds like those memories of those teams are something that you kind of revisit frequently when you're building your own team, obviously down in Tennessee?
MV: I mean, I certainly try to draw from those things when I'm looking back at it and using that. I mean, we all do that and try to use our own personal experience, our life experiences. But I mean, just thinking back and being on a visit with Larry Izzo and Anthony Pleasant, and one guy's coming from Cleveland and one guy's coming from Miami, and I'm coming from Pittsburgh. It's like, that was just three guys, there was 26 new players on that team, or however many there were. And that's what I think back to and just the friendships that we've all made and the connections that we've all made through those teams.
Q: Robert Kraft, in the video that they sent out, said that you were the heart and soul of those first three championship teams. One, is that something that you had heard before? And two, what does his message mean to you in your communication over the years?
MV: Well, I tried to prove that I belong there. I think every day, every week, I wanted to try to be there and be productive and know as many positions as I could and play special teams and embrace playing special teams. Learning from guys like Bill and learning the history of football from Ernie Adams, learning special teams from Brad Seely, watching Dante Scarnecchia coach and the passion and what he put into it. Obviously, the defensive coaches that we had Dean Pees, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Rob Ryan, Pepper Johnson, all these guys that we got to be associated with. It was fun coming to work. Obviously winning makes it fun, but it was something that we're all better off for having spent time there.
Q: I'm curious if there's anyone you've heard from since this was announced that stands out?
MV: Just our normal group, you know what I mean? Just the normal group and some coaches which is always nice. Listen, there's amazing people that allowed us to be successful. When the team has success, individuals get rewarded. And I'm appreciative of that and having been a part of that. It's just great to see everybody having success after football and doing some really cool, positive things in every avenue that we've pursued, whether that's TV or coaching or business. That's what I think I'm probably the most proud of, that everybody has gone on to quite a lot of success.
Q: Everyone would say you weren't afraid to give it back to Bill, and there's stories about rocking chairs being put in the meeting room.
MV: No, I can't give you my best, but there was a healthy respect there. There still is. We're competitors, but I think that's just, when you spend a lot of time around people and you have respect, you know what you can say, you know what you can't say. Bill had his way of motivating us, usually through old Giants tape of those great linebackers. And so, I tried to, when appropriate, I tried to give it back to him as well.
Q: I have to ask you, you were a recipient of many of Tom Brady's touchdown passes in the end zone, which is your favorite one?
MV: Oh, probably the ones in the Super Bowl. There was a back line one against the Jets that I don't think we've ever thrown. It's like the third progression in the goal line and I was like on the backside and never thought that I would even get the ball, and I turned around and it's like, it's already left his hand. I'm like, 'Well, I guess he got to his third progression,' because normally it's just like one, two and then throw it away on the goal line. And I turned around and the ball was there, and I was like, 'I don't think I've ever caught that end line on the goal line,' So those are the ones that stand out to me. But the Super Bowl one, where just everything's a fog and blur and all of a sudden through a bunch of helmets and hands, Tom managed to find the football and get it through.
Q: And what about the Philly one?
MV: Well, you get tackled and it looks ridiculous until you realize they got held and tackled, but it looks like I'm trying to catch a beach ball. I'm falling down. So I don't think that one wins the aesthetics award, but that one was being able to fight through the penalty.