By: Bob George/BosSports.net
July 09, 2008

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Ben Coates was one of those Patriots whom you can't praise enough.

Coates missed all the falling ripe plums of the 2000s with the Patriots, as he was let go by Bill Belichick when the coach assumed command of the team in 2000. But Coates left his impression on the Patriots during his 1991-1999 tenure with the team. He set an NFL record for most pass catches by a tight end in a season with 96 in 1994. But he is mostly remembered as Drew Bledsoe's security blanket, making seemingly impossible grabs in the clutch, making catches while being held by one or more defenders at the time.

Coates becomes the 12th Patriot inducted into the Patriot Hall of Fame, joining Bruce Armstrong, Nick Buoniconti, Gino Cappelletti, Bob Dee, Steve Grogan, John Hannah, Mike Haynes, Jim Lee Hunt, Steve Nelson, Babe Parilli, Andre Tippett and Stanley Morgan. All of these players naturally predate the four Super Bowls era of the 2000s for the Patriots, which means that about ten to fifteen years from now, this list may double in size, if not more.

The Patriots may want to think this over and be ready for when their Valhalla roll list gets bigger. Teams like Dallas and Denver have made a "ring of fame", and names of the great players and coaches in their franchise's history are on display for all to see. The Patriots could also make like the Celtics and Yankees and retire most every available number, but since pro football has rules on which number a player may wear at a given position, that may not be feasible.

But the time has come for Bob Kraft to do something more overt to celebrate the team's growing legacy. What had been a litany of mostly poor to average seasons is now a team which has been the dominant team of the new millennium. If Kraft is willing to pour millions of dollars into building Patriot Place to further enhance the image of his team, he needs to make some sort of museum-like tribute to all the players who brought him the glory he now enjoys. And this is not to condemn Kraft in any way; any museum to honor the history of the Patriots would be grossly incomplete without Kraft in it himself.

That said, let's look ahead to about the year 2015 (Zager and Evans went a bit further into the future, of course) and see who might be in a Patriot Ring of Fame. We will also include possible retired numbers, since the Patriots do have seven currently retired numbers (all of whom are in the Patriot Hall of Fame).

Adam Vinatieri (4) Positives: All those clutch kicks. All-time leading scorer in franchise history. Likeable fan favorite. Maybe the only kicker who was worth the money he was seeking. Negatives: Messy departure exposed the ruthless side of how the Patriot front office deals with players in general. Signed with the Colts, never a good thing for a Patriot fan to stomach. The most high-profile ex-Patriot in the Belichick era to win a Super Bowl after leaving the team. Retire number? Only if a reconciliation like the Red Sox did with Carlton Fisk could be brokered.

Tom Brady (12) Positives: Best Patriot quarterback ever, among top ten best ever in NFL history. A player who has both nerves of steel and a dynamic competitive spirit. One of the best pure "winners" in Boston sports area history. Should one day have a bust in Canton. Negatives: Virtually none, although some fans out there would prefer him to marry before having kids. Someone tell Gisele to burn all his Yankee hats. Retire number? Is the Pope Catholic?

Ty Law (24) Positives: Best cover corner in team history other than perhaps Haynes. Set team mark for career interceptions (tied with Ray Clayborn). Clutch postseason player, with some of his best games against Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner. Negatives: Chose to leave for more money, but career has not been same since leaving Foxborough. Not really in the class of Haynes, won't be given consideration for Canton. Retire number? Extremely doubtful.

Kevin Faulk (33) Positives: Durable (in terms of total seasons) back, best third down back in team history. Sixth in team history in career pass catches. Team leader in career kickoff returns, fourth in team history in career punt returns. Huge fan favorite who is known for numerous clutch plays in his career. Negatives: Legendary problems with fumbling the ball. Somewhat prone to injuries. Retire number? After a few more years, maybe, but still a long shot.

Lawyer Milloy (36) Positives: Intense, hard-hitting safety. A team leader who quarterbacked the secondary with great success. Another fan favorite. Negatives: Not really adept in pass coverage. Messy departure not received well, especially when it was revealed how much money he was seeking. Like Law, Patriots got the best of Milloy when he was a Patriot, not nearly the player he was after he left. Retire number? Most likely not.

Rodney Harrison (37) Positives: See Milloy, except better in all areas.. Negatives: Longevity, may not have enough seasons as a Patriot when he hangs up his cleats or moves on (2008 would be Harrison's sixth as a Patriot). Retire number? No.

Mike Vrabel (50) Positives: Consistently outstanding linebacker, especially outside. One of the smartest, if not the smartest, player on a team filled with brainiacs. Played well at inside when forced to do so. Negatives: This writer being a degree holder from Michigan, the words "Ohio" and "State" never sound good together. Anyone who remembers Vrabel solely for being the one who sealed the 1997 9-7 playoff loss at Pittsburgh should be taken out and whipped. Retire number? Not likely but worth considering.

Ted Johnson (52) Positives: Hard-nosed inside linebacker. Played ten seasons for the Patriots and provided terrific run stoppage. He has really not been replaced since his 2004 retirement following Super Bowl XXXIX. Negatives: Injury issues his whole career. Has had hard time dealing with football injuries in his retirement years. Retire number? Doubtful, most likely no.

Larry Izzo (53) Positives: Terrific special teams player, one of the best in the NFL during the 2000s. Dependable, team-oriented player. Long tenure (seven seasons as a Patriot) for someone who is chiefly a special teams player. Negatives: Exclusive special teams players don't usually get this sort of recognition. Take away special teams and Izzo's value to the team is somewhat reduced as he is not among the top linebackers on the team. Retire number? No.

Tedy Bruschi (54) Positives: An all-time fan favorite. Embodies the spirit of the Patriots. Emotional leader for the entire team. Longtime defensive stalwart with stunning natural instincts. Overcame stroke with a great deal of bravery and perseverance. Negatives: Possible candidate for "hanging on too long", though this guy should never be counted out in doing anything he sets his mind to. Retire number? I defy you to find anyone who would say no.

Willie McGinest (55) Positives: Longtime team leader and one of the best defensive players in team history. Played well at both linebacker and down lineman. Saw both good and bad times here and wore his heart on his sleeve when the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI. Negatives: Was quoted recently as having bitter feelings about how he left the Patriots, which hopefully isn't really true. Retire number? Junior Seau got his number 55; after Seau leaves, this is one worth thinking about.

Lonie Paxton (66) Positives: Considered the best long snapper in the league. It's not that often that you carry one guy this long (eight seasons following the 2007 season) primarily as a long snapper. Negatives: Most long snappers are anonymous and don't get this kind of recognition. Retire number? No, but put up a snow angel banner somewhere in his honor.

Dan Koppen (67) Positives: Stout center who anchors the current offensive line. Great at calling blocking signals. Made All-Pro in 2007. Negatives: Longevity, not in league long enough to gauge right now how he stacks up for the ages. Faces biggest career challenge in trying to get his line to rebound from stinging Super Bowl XLII loss. Retire number? Need more time.

Matt Light (72) Positives: Stalwart, dependable longtime quarterback protector. Terrific locker room presence with light-hearted approach and keen sense of humor. Negatives: Susceptible to speedy pass rushers. Sometimes an injury problem. Retire number? Most likely no.

Vince Wilfork (75) Positives: Took over for Ted Washington and advanced the quality of nose tackle for the Patriots. A house who requires more than one blocker. Great student of the game. Negatives: Needs more years to adequately assess his worthiness for any lifetime distinction. Mentioned chiefly because of his stature on the all-first round defensive line. Retire number? Too early to tell.

Troy Brown (80) Positives: Top pass catcher in team history, second in career yards to Morgan, sixth in receiving touchdowns. Fifth in kickoff returns, first in punt returns, tied with Irving Fryar for most punt returns for touchdowns. Consummate professional, the Patriot version of Tim Wakefield. Negatives: Too bad Bill Parcells liked Vincent Brisby better. Too bad Bob Kraft liked Terry Glenn better. Retire number? Absolutely.

Richard Seymour (93) Positives: Perhaps the best defensive lineman of his day. Presents terrific blocking issues for opposing linemen. Both very big and very quick. Negatives: History of injuries. Seems to have gotten over 2003 spat with Belichick over grandfather's funeral. Retire number? Very possible.

Ty Warren (94) Positives: Continues to learn game and improving with each year. Works hard and sets good examples. Negatives: See Wilfork. Retire number? See Wilfork.

Some qualifying remarks: Drew Bledsoe can and should get this sort of consideration, except he was under Belichick for only two seasons. Players like Otis Smith, Roman Phifer, Deion Branch and David Givens needed more seasons with the team to merit consideration. Though players like Koppen, Wilfork and Warren were mentioned, players like Ben Watson, Stephen Neal, Logan Mankins and Laurence Maroney need a bit more time for adequate assessment.

Okay, Mr. Kraft. Here's your men. Time to put the creative people to work.


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