Vince Wilfork was announced as this year's inductee into the Patriots Hall of Fame, a well-deserved honor that will bring the big defensive lineman back to New England for his induction ceremony this summer. Speaking with the media via conference call on Tuesday afternoon, Wilfork expressed his gratitude to the Patriots organization and fans.
"I was getting up in Louisiana, I had a missed call from a 508 number. I called it back and it was Mr. Kraft's assistant and she merged me in with him and Mr. Kraft was the first one to let me know that I made the Patriots Hall of Fame this morning," recounted Wilfork. "But the organization and the Kraft family and New England and every one of the fans what they mean to me as a person... I told them how grateful I was to be a part of such a wonderful culture and brotherhood."
Wilfork spent 11 seasons with the Patriots, winning his first Super Bowl as a rookie in 2004 and then capping off his run with the Pats with a second championship in 2014. Wilfork is really the key player who served as the bridge from the first dynasty to the second, which in total spans an unprecedented 20 year run of NFL success.
"It just goes to show the credit that goes to Robert Kraft and the Patriots organization and Bill Belichick and his staff, being able to do what they've done for two decades, I don't think we'll ever see that again at this level," said Wilfork. "I remember talking to Devin McCourty when he came in, he used to call me old, now when I talk to him now he's the old guy. All my teammates have been great, I never had no issues with anybody, we all were had one goal in mind and that goal was to be the best team and win.
"I can really sit back and say there's a lot of things I learned from the old heads when I came in and I can really say it's a lot of things that the younger guys, when I became the older guy, that they learned from me."
Wilfork was especially appreciative of Patriots fans, noting the fandom has even infected him as he roots on the Celtics during their current run to the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals.
"A lot of these states don't get what Boston has with their professional sports and the one thing I really love about it is the fans," said Wilfork. "The fan base that we have in Boston you can't compare. You might have a couple places out there but there's something about being a New England fan and playing sports there. One thing I know is the fans love their sports."
Wilfork recalled a few of his favorite plays from his career, including third- and fourth-down stops against the Ravens in the 2011 AFC Championship, as well as a key sack on Ben Roethlisberger where everything just seemed to click for him as a player. He might've been considered just a nose tackle when he entered the league, but by the time he finished, he was a versatile defensive lineman who could play anywhere, with fans bestowing a well-deserved spot in the Patriots Hall of Fame.
"I'm blessed," said Wilfork. "It was hard work, I never put nothing before my teammates. I ate football, I slept football. That was my first love. I'm honored."
With the Patriots coaches also speaking with the media on Tuesday, it provided a chance for some of his former teammates and coaches to weigh in on Big Vince's impact in New England.
"A shout out of appreciation to Vince Wilfork I think that's awesome, I heard the news as we just got off the field," said Matt Patricia who was with Wilfork during his entire Patriots tenure, including his defensive coordinator for his final three seasons with the team. "Obviously an amazing individual, great guy, great player. Super excited for him."
Jerod Mayo broke into the league in 2008 and benefited from playing behind the block-eating defensive tackle.
"You talk about a guy who could eat three blocks literally and allow a young pup to come through and roam free, he was the guy," said Mayo. "Whatever we asked him to do, line up at defensive and line up at the nose... You wanted him in the middle of the defense because they couldn't really run away from him in there and as soon as we put him at defensive end they just checked the play to the other side. A guy who could do it all, very athletic, and a smart football player which I think is sometimes overlooked. A guy who knew where the ball is going especially in a run game. Well-deserved, I'm super happy for him."
Even though current Patriots defensive line coach Demarcus Covington never crossed paths with Wilfork in New England, he said that Wilfork's influence remains behind the walls of Gillette Stadium.
"Every year if there's a tape here of how to play defensive line or defensive tackle it's gonna have him on it," said Covington. "He's definitely a pillar in this defense, the legacy... he's an example of what we want to be like on the football field."
Steve Belichick was just a kid when he was first roaming the sidelines of Patriots games and had a first-hand view of the impact the Wilfork had, eventually landing on the coaching staff for Wilfork's final Patriots season.
"Very versatile player," said Belichick. "Great person off the field, love spending time with him. Learned a lot from him just in terms of defensive line play and being a professional football player. Was a great leader in the locker room, brought a lot of guys together and couldn't be happier for Vince."