- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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This year’s three Patriots Hall of Fame finalists will be announced on April 15. Then fans will vote for the one inductee on Patriots.com over the ensuing weeks.
The Patriots Hall of Fame Committee met on Thursday to narrow the field to three finalists (5 points for first-place vote; 3 points for second-place vote; 1 point for third-place vote). This took place at Skipjacks at Patriot Place and the 19-member committee, which includes past beat writers, broadcasters, alumni etc. discussed candidates in a private room.
Specifics of what was said in the room stays in the room. That’s the best way to ensure honest dialogue, and that trust among committee members can never be compromised.
But those on the committee are encouraged to share their own opinions publicly, as part of promoting dialogue as it relates to the history of the franchise.
So here are a few of mine.
I made the point in our weekly Patriots chat that my feelings on Patriots history can be divided up this way:
1993-present is strong.
1985-1992 is good, but always feel the need for further confirmation.
1960-1984 relies on storytelling, speaking with past players and the word of those committee members who were closest around those teams.
This is the way it goes when you are one of the youngest people in the room. You always respect the past and the people who were actually there, played in those games, or coached those teams.
I was more excited about this year’s process (our seventh) than any other because three of the first-year eligible candidates came from that first segment of time (1993-present) in which I feel very strongly about because of being present for most of it.
Those candidates are linebacker Tedy Bruschi, safety Rodney Harrison and outside linebacker Willie McGinest.
I went into the meeting thinking that those three, plus offensive lineman Leon Gray (1973-1978) and coaches Chuck Fairbanks (1973-78) and Bill Parcells (1993-1996) were the top candidates. There are others who are worthy, but this was my elite group entering the room.
My top choice was Bruschi, whom Bill Belichick called “the perfect Patriot” upon his retirement (1996-2008). I tried to step back from any personal bias because of his work for ESPN and ESPN Boston, and simply judge the resume at face value.
Full tilt, full time. Championships. Big plays. Longevity. Clutch. Maybe the most popular Patriot of all time.
To me, Bruschi is the slam-dunk choice in 2013. He was the first-place vote on my ballot.
So that left me with Harrison, McGinest, Gray, Fairbanks and Parcells for two spots.
I didn’t think that Gray would be my second choice, but I learned a lot in the meeting room Thursday about his dominance that I didn’t know before. Gray was a big reason the 1978 Patriots team set the NFL record for rushing yards in a season that still holds today (3,165 yards). Current Pro Football Hall of Famers have spoken about what it was like to play with him, or against him, and the theme ultimately came down to this: Gray might be the best Patriot currently not in the team’s Hall of Fame.
This is a part of the process where the opinions of others in the room had great influence for me. I saw every game Rodney Harrison and Willie McGinest played for the Patriots, but didn’t see one in which Gray played.
Gray got the second-place vote on my ballot.
So then the third spot was a choice between Harrison, McGinest, Fairbanks and Parcells.
Tough, tough, tough choice.
I went with Harrison, while also factoring in his 2007 NFL suspension for violating the NFL's policy on PEDs.
He was a tone-setter. Opponents feared going over the middle. His ability to cover top tight ends was instrumental in the team’s success, and anyone who disputes that only needs to look at the 2006 AFC Championship Game (Harrison was injured and didn't play) as to the value of the ability to do so.
Last month, Belichick said Harrison is not just one of the best players in franchise history but also worthy of Pro Football Hall of Fame consideration.
YOUR TURN: Who would be your three finalists for Patriots Hall of Fame consideration? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog entry and vote in the poll above.