Vince Wilfork was back around Gillette Stadium this week, as the soon-to-be-inducted Patriots Hall of Famer prepared for his Saturday ceremony that will enshrine him among the greatest Patriots of all time. Though it might've been a while since Big Vince was in Foxborough, his legacy never left and now he'll have a permanent spot inside The Hall at Patriot Place.
Wilfork was a dominant force for the Patriots, playing 11 years with the team and winning two Super Bowls while bridging the gap between the first three championships and the second set of titles. Selected in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft, Wilfork quickly became a foundational piece of the Patriots defense.
"Vince is a really, very athletic guy," said Bill Belichick on Friday. "I want to say he still holds the shot-put record in the state of Florida in high school. Which, whether he holds it or not, the fact that he's up there, that high, for that long is pretty impressive. He can run, very light on his feet. I mean for such a big guy, I think good balance, tremendous playing strength. Great competitor, very smart, good communicator. Was a good team leader. Great team captain. So he brought a lot to this organization on and off the field for a long period of time."
"The only reason I've done something good was because of the coaches that I had," Wilfork told Patriots.com during his Thursday jacket fitting. "They taught me very, very well. What it was like to be a professional, you know what it's like to play with technique and don't rely on just your size and just little small things. And a lot of credit goes to Bill Belichick when it comes to playing football because you know, here I am. I'm coming out of the University of Miami. I know what it's like to win. I know that but playing the game and understanding the game inside of the game, Bill taught me that."
Perhaps most impressive was Wilfork's ability to play multiple roles within the defense. It was something that emerged later in his Patriots tenure and became a key feature for the Pats D.
"So I just took my job real seriously and I never just looked at myself as a nose tackle, I don't think Bill did either and you know that's why I was able to play defensive end, left defensive end, right, three-technique, two-technique, 4i, head up, shade, I was able to play all those because I built that trust with Bill and I showed him I can do that because I knew the game inside of the game."
"Of course, his rookie year when we had Keith Traylor, he played defensive end," said Belichick when asked about his surprising versatility. "He played out of position which I think was a real good introduction to us to the versatility that he has for sure. He's not really a 3-4 end but that's what he played. Keith [Traylor] was the nose. It was kind of the reverse when we took [Richard] Seymour. Richard [Seymour] played nose his rookie year before we moved him out back to end, which was really his right position for him. But Vince [Wilfork] handled it well there. He was just one of those players you had to get in the lineup. You had to put him somewhere."
"A person that size, moving that well, it was really impressive," said Lawrence Guy. "You really didn't see that, the athletic ability, the speed. It's always good watching him, going back I don't think people can do that anymore."
Wilfork continues to have an impact on current Patriots players as well, with Davon Godchaux highlighting his predecessor at one of the most underrated positions in the game after first signing with the team in 2021.
"Big Vince Wilfork, can't take for granted what he's done for this program, and what he's done for the NFL in general," said Godchaux. "He dominated the game at this position. He's one of the guys I look up to when I talk about striking them with your hands and things like that, he dominated that."
"A Patriots great, an all-time great, what he did for this team, this organization is unmatched and unparalleled," said Damien Harris. "What an honor to follow guys like that, guys who leave that kind of legacy and show you what it's like to be a true Patriot."
Saturday's ceremony will be a fitting cap on Wilfork's exemplary career, even more so because it comes before a game against the Ravens. Not only did the Patriots use a Ravens draft pick acquired a year earlier to select him, but his favorite performance of his career also came against Baltimore in the 2011 AFC Championship.
"I think that's one of the ones that I probably would say go down as my favorite just because of who we were playing, what was at stake, where we were in the game -- we needed plays," said Wilfork back in May after learning of his selection for The Hall. "I always go back on those two plays -- 3rd and 4th-down plays that I made back-to-back. I remember the night before, I was reading Jack Tatum's book and I was just in awe of how people were afraid of him, and what his mindset was, and how he approached every game. And that just gave me something -- I had a totally different mindset in that moment."
With Big Vince back in the house for another tilt between the old AFC foes, things have come full circle in the best way possible.