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April 11 in Pats History: Houston Antwine

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Today in Patriots History
Remembering Houston Antwine

Houston Antwine was born on April 11, 1939; he would have been 82 today. He was one of the best players in football history that is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Antwine may also be the greatest player in Patriot history that most Pats fans don’t know about.

Antwine played in 142 games over eleven seasons for the Patriots. 270 pounds may not be big by today’s standards, but in 1961 it certainly was. Houston Antwine was a man among boys, constantly commanding double or even triple teams from opposing offenses. He wasn’t just some big slug though; Antwine was extremely athletic, using skills he had acquired as a collegiate wrestling champion. ’Twine was not only strong but also very quick on his feet, and nearly impossible to move out of the middle. He was also a well-rounded, versatile player; not only devastating against the run, but also tenacious on his pass rush, totaling 39 sacks in his career and leading the Pats in sacks three straight years.

“Houston Antwine was the kind of football player you don’t forget if you ever saw him, but he’s the kind few remember today because he did his playing before ESPN highlight shows existed. If they had, ‘Twine would have been a staple because he was everything you wanted in a defensive tackle — Warren Sapp before there was a Warren Sapp, but without the need for volume control.”

Antwine was an AFL All-Star six straight years, and was named to the All-Time All-AFL Team. Now stop and think about that for a moment. If a player that was named to the NFL’s all time team of the decade for say the 1990’s or 2000’s that also went to six consecutive Pro Bowls, would there even be any discussion as to whether or not he should be voted in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Probably not. Yet Antwine earned identical honors that just so happened to be at an earlier time. Why was he be penalized for that?

Perhaps the biggest reason is because it took far too long for his own team to honor him. The Pats set up their team Hall of Fame in 1991. John Hannah was the original inductee, in the same year he became the first Patriot enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The following year Nick Buoniconti and Gino Cappelletti got their bust at Patriot Place. Antwine was arguably more deserving than these two legends though. Buoniconti is more well known for his championships in Miami rather than his seven seasons with the Patriots. And as good as Cappelletti was, he was never the league’s premier player at a position, the way Antwine was.

Legitimate cases can be made for those three over Antwine, but not for the next group. In 1993 the Pats’ HoF added three more players from the sixties. Nothing against Bob Dee, Jim Lee Hunt or Babe Parilli, but Houston Antwine was a far more dominant football player. In terms of the Hall of Fame the Patriots were ‘on to the seventies and eighties’ after that, for all intents done with AFL-era players.

Antwine is one of the best draft bargains in Patriots history,
arriving in the eighth round out of Southern Illinois in '61 and forming a dominating defensive tackle pairing with Jim Lee Hunt.

Yes, the Patriots eventually did add Antwine to the hall in 2015. Sadly it was four years after he passed away. He deserved to go in twenty-plus years earlier, while he was still alive. So why did that not happen? His play on the field was such that he deserved to be the first player after John Hannah to enter the Patriot Hall of Fame.

Rumor has it that some of the old time writers did not care for him. Maybe he wasn’t friendly enough with the old guard and they held a grudge. He was one of 22 players to boycott the 1965 AFL all star game in New Orleans, where Jim Crow laws and blatant racism still prevailed; maybe that protest against conditions there had something to do with it.

Regardless of the reason, it started a vicious circle. The thought process was that if Antwine’s own team would not honor him, he couldn’t have been good enough for the Pro Football Hall of Fame – who already were showing an obvious bias against consideration for AFL players.

More time passed, and fewer and fewer writers and fans were old enough to remember or appreciate Antwine. The thinking of those nominating and voting for for the Patriot Hall of Fame mirrored that of those voting for enshrinement to Canton. On the rare occasion his name was brought up it was quickly dismissed. The sentiment was that ‘he couldn’t have been that good if all these other old timers are in and he is not’.

Commencing in 2011 a ten-person senior committee was formed. They were scheduled to convene and have the option of adding one Patriot that had been retired for at least 25 years. It seemed like such a no-brainer; Antwine surely would finally be honored in Foxboro. He had already been a finalist three times, futilely up against more recent and recognizable players. Incredibly his election still did not happen. Jon Morris was a good guy with a nice career, but he was not close to the same level of player as Houston Antwine. Apparently the old time writers refused to let go of whatever grudges they were holding on to.

In December of 2005 Antwine was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The disease was allegedly caused by repeated blows to the head from his playing days, back when concussions were just “dings” and players were expected to just shake it off and keep going. Houston Antwine passed away in December of 2011 at the age of 72, a few months after Morris was inducted to the Pats Hall of Fame. The senior committee must have felt a bit of remorse; they then voted Antwine in the next time they met.

Fan voting for the Patriots Hall of Fame will commence in the next few days, and perhaps we will see Julius Adams name on the ballot. Hopefully Pats fans will carefully consider “forgotten” players, and not simply cast their ballot for the most recently retired nominee that played in the Brady-Belichick era.

Defensive tackle Houston Antwine chases down Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese during a 1970 game.


Staff member
Today in Patriots History
Other April 11 birthdays

Aside from Houston Antwine there are six other April 11 Patriot birthdays.

Happy birthday to Justin Canale
Born April 11, 1943 in Memphis
Died October 11, 2011 at age 68
Patriot G/K, 1965-68; uniform #63

Pats sixth round (47th overall) selection in the 1965 draft, from Mississippi State

Canale appeared in all 56 games during his four years with the Patriots, and was the starting LG in '68. He later played for the Bengals, then five years in the CFL and three seasons in the WFL. His brother Whit was a Patriot DE in '68, making them the first of four Pats brother-tandems. In '66 Canale kicked 21 touchbacks, a team record that would stand for an incredible 44 years, until 2010.

Ode to Justin Canale: A Gentle Giant of Sport is Dead

Canale Brothers | Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame

Justin Canale and the Canale Clan

Happy 70th birthday to Tom Reynolds
Born April 11, 1949 in Pasadena, CA
Patriot WR, 1972; uniform #21
Pats 2nd round (49th overall) selection of the 1972 draft, from San Diego State

The 6'3, 200 lb receiver was in Foxboro for only one season, appearing in twelve games with just eight receptions for 152 yards and two TD. In 1973 Chuck Fairbanks took over, and he jettisoned Reynolds after drafting Darryl Stingley. Reynolds lasted just one more season in the NFL, with seven receptions in nine games for the Bears in '73.

Happy 53rd birthday to David Richards
Born April 11, 1966 in Staten Island, NY
Patriot G/T, 1996; uniform #62
Claimed off waivers from Atlanta on October 24, 1996

Richards was an 8-year NFL starting offensive lineman with San Diego, Detroit and Atlanta before being picked up by the Pats in his final pro football season. He is also one of several players who sued the NFL over 'Plan B' free agency, winning the largest settlement from that group. He now works in commercial real estate in Dallas, with high school road trips a distant memory.

Happy 45th birthday to Dietrich Jells
Born April 11, 1972 in New York City
Patriot WR, 1996-97; uniform #83
Claimed off waivers from Kansas City on August 21, 1996

Jells was a sixth round draft pick by KC in '96, and the Patriots picked him up after he was cut before the season began by the Chiefs. He appeared in 18 games in his two seasons with New England, mostly on special teams. The former Pitt Panther had two receptions for 14 yards with the Pats, and was then traded to Philadelphia for a 7th round 2000 pick. That pick was eventually part of a trade with Detroit that resulted in the Pats drafting Matt Light - so Jells did have a hand in the 21st century success of the Patriots. He finished his NFL career with 14 receptions for 247 yards and two touchdowns in 41 games played over four seasons.

Happy 30th birthday to Donald Brown
Born April 11, 1987 in Atlantic Highlands, NJ
Patriot RB, 2016 offseason; uniform #34
Signed as a veteran free agent on March 16, 2016

Brown was a first round (27th overall) selection out of UConn by the Colts in 2009. He spent five seasons with Indy and two with San Diego prior to signing with the Patriots. His final season with the Colts was his best, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and a total of 8 touchdowns and 751 yards from scrimmage. He was signed by the Patriots in March of 2016 to a $965,000 contract with $300,000 guaranteed.

The Pats released Brown on August 23, 2016, and he never caught on with another team after that. He finished his NFL career with 3,895 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns in 88 games played.

Happy birthday to Patrick Ford
Born April 11, 1987 in Richmond, Virginia
Patriot G, 2013 practice squad
Signed as a free agent on November 27, 2013

Ford lasted just 48 hours on the Pats roster. The Eastern Kentucky alum never had a chance, his career ruined by two stints in the Jets organization.

April 11, 1994:
Pats sign free agent CB Ricky Reynolds, after seven seasons in Tampa. Reynolds would start at corner for the next three seasons in New England, with six interceptions (including one pick-six) for the Pats.

Other April 11 birthdays with a New England connection:

Joe Hugret (1909-1977)
Born in Torrington CT; Bristol (CT) HS
Briefly played end for the 1934 Brooklyn Dodgers.

Quentin Reynolds (1902-1965)
Brown University
Two way lineman with the 1926 Brooklyn Lions.