By: Bob George
Ty Law is a Patriot Hall of Famer. Well done, well deserved.
Every corner of Patriot Nation should stand up and cheer for the former cornerback from Michigan who is tied for the franchise lead in career interceptions (with Raymond Clayborn). Law is best remembered for his pick-six in Super Bowl XXXVI which was the linchpin for the eventual 20-17 upset win over the St. Louis Rams, but his entire Patriot career was most exceptional. His penchant for picking off Peyton Manning in the postseason was especially pleasing to all Patriot fans.
The Patriots have not yet replaced Law in the Patriot secondary, that is, until perhaps now. With Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner now in the fold, they are pretty much the talk of the town at Patriots training camp. Much was made, for example, of Browner mixing it up with Kenbrell Thompkins during practice. Every day you get reports of how many times Revis picked off Tom Brady in practice. There is no question that this is the most excited Patriot Nation has been regarding the Patriot secondary since Law last played for the Patriots in 2004, which, coincidentally, was the last season to date that the Patriots became world champs.
There has also been a great deal of sentiment to put Law in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. On this enshrinement weekend, which features the first punter in NFL history to be so honored (Ray Guy of the Oakland/LA Raiders), many Patriot fans want Law borne off to Canton sometime soon. Law’s 36 career picks are far away from the most ever (81 by Paul Krause of Washington and Minnesota), so justifying Law’s induction would be largely on sentiment and non-material analysis. Law is regarded as the best Patriot cornerback not in the Hall of Fame, as opposed to Mike Haynes, who is enshrined in Canton.
Does Law belong in Canton? Perhaps. At least not right now, or not just yet.
First things first. When you talk about former Patriots who should be enshrined at Canton, you have to put Gino Cappelletti at the top of the list. Get Gino in first, then we’ll worry about everyone else, like Law.
Gil Santos, the recently retired iconic Patriot radio announcer and longtime partner of Cappelletti, can rattle off all the reasons Gino should be in the Hall of Fame better than you or I or anyone else. Cappelletti played his entire career in the old American Football League, and his entire career spanned the existence of the league exactly (1960-69). He is one of 20 players to have played in every game in AFL history and one of only three players who played in every AFL game for one team (thanks, Wikipedia). He remains one of the greatest players in AFL history, playing for a Patriot team that made the playoffs only once (1963).
Cappelletti is the all-time leading scorer in AFL history, largely because he was both a wide receiver and a field goal kicker. According to Wikipedia, he has two of the five top scoring seasons in pro football history, with 155 points in 1964 and 147 points in 1961. He was the all time leading Patriots scorer until Adam Vinatieri passed him in 2005. He was the AFL MVP in 1964 and a five-time AFL all-star.
Yet for reasons no one in these parts can fathom, Cappelletti is still not enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Kickers who played other positions in Gino’s day were much more prevalent than today. George Blanda is a legendary quarterback who also did placekicking. Steve Myhra, who tied the famous 1958 NFL Championship Game with a field goal just before the end of regulation time, was a guard and a linebacker. Kickers didn’t become specialists until much later, perhaps with the advent of Pete Gogolak as the first soccer-style kicker in the mid-1960s. It made what Cappelletti did much more admirable years later.
To put what Cappelletti did in perspective, try and imagine Vinatieri being among the top pass receivers in the NFL. Vinatieri does have one career touchdown pass, but that was on a fake field goal. Otherwise, he was paid to do one thing.
Troy Brown goes one better than Vinatieri. In 2004, Brown played both ways and wound up with three interceptions (his first off former teammate Drew Bledsoe). But that was just one season, not his entire career.
Cappelletti did both receiving and placekicking his entire career. It is a lost art today, but to excel like he did back in the 1960s at both positions was remarkable even then. If for no other reason, the fact that he was both a standout wide receiver and placekicker for as long as he was deserves consideration for the Hall of Fame. And it wasn’t just what he did as a Patriot; his accomplishments were among the best in the history of the AFL. And compared alongside the NFL, which Cappelletti never played in, his records hold up as well.
If Cappelletti is being denied the Hall of Fame because he played only in the AFL and never in the NFL, that is simply wrong and unfair. It took nine seasons, but the Jets and Chiefs eventually proved that the AFL was indeed major league. In 1963 the Chargers, who had beaten the Patriots 51-10 in the AFL Championship Game and were considered by many to be the best team in pro football, challenged the NFL Champion Chicago Bears to an all-pro football championship game. The Bolts said that the Bears could pick the time and place and could even use NFL balls. Da Bears declined the challenge.
Legendary Packers head coach Vince Lombardi did indeed win the first two Super Bowls over AFL teams. But he nearly drove himself to rack and ruin with all the pressure heaped on him to win the games, especially the first one against Kansas City. He would die of cancer two years after winning Super Bowl II.
The Colts are still disgraced to this day for losing Super Bowl III to the Jets. Many of the Colt players who did win Super Bowl V were still ashamed over losing two years before rather than winning that Super Bowl, which is more known for eleven turnovers than a Colt win. It is amazing that Don Shula overcame that titanic loss to go on to become the winningest head coach in NFL history and the only coach to preside over a perfect team (17-0 in 1972). But Super Bowl III was a convincing win by the Jets, a “leave no doubt” statement by the AFL that it was indeed a major league.
The AFL was one hundred percent legit, and if this is why Cappelletti is not in the Hall of Fame, it is a huge wrong that must be righted, and it must be done while Cappelletti is still alive.
Once Gino gets in, then we’ll get around to guys like Law. Brady doesn’t have to worry about his eventual trip to Canton. But until Gino is finally honored, Patriot Nation needs to keep an eye on perspective and temper its enthusiasm for the best of the best.