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Big love shown to Vince Wilfork upon his induction into Patriots Hall of Fame

The Boston Globe 9/24/2022 Nicole Yang
Vince Wilfork, who spent 11 years with the Patriots, will be with the team forever more after being inducted into its Hall of Fame. © Barry Chin/Globe Staff Vince Wilfork, who spent 11 years with the Patriots, will be with the team forever more after being inducted into its Hall of Fame.

FOXBOROUGH — By the time Patriots coach Bill Belichick took the podium Saturday, he felt as though almost everything he wanted to say had already been said.

“Everybody up here has kind of stolen my thunder,” Belichick said. “All of the comments that have been made were, ‘Oh, I was going to say that,’ you know, ‘Oh, I was going to say that,’ or, ‘Hey, that was the story I was going to tell.’ "

But Belichick still delivered plenty of glowing remarks in honor of retired nose tackle Vince Wilfork, the latest inductee into the Patriots Hall of Fame. Hundreds of fans showed up to Gillette Stadium to watch the red jacket ceremony, which featured Belichick, owner Robert Kraft, and others sharing what made Wilfork such a special player and person.

The adulation was overflowing, with numerous fans sporting No. 75 jerseys and shouting, “We love you, Vince!” Cheers broke out throughout the presentation as the crowd celebrated Wilfork’s contributions during his 11-year tenure in New England.

Belichick called Wilfork’s devotion to the team “legendary.” Both he and safety Devin McCourty applauded Wilfork’s willingness to match up against the opponent’s best offensive lineman. Whomever was the opposing team’s go-to blocker, Wilfork always asked for that assignment.

“This guy is this, he’s all-this and All-Pro that and all-something else,” Belichick recalled. “Vince said, ‘Put me on him. I’ll take care of him. Let everybody else have a fair fight. Give me that guy.’ That takes a lot.”

Added McCourty, “He would want the team to know, ‘I don’t care about stats.’ If this guy is supposed to be good, I’m going to punch him in the mouth every single play and everybody else is going to eat. That’s the example that he set.”

Not only did Wilfork volunteer to take on that challenge, but he also consistently rose to the occasion. Because of his talent and size (6 feet 2 inches, 325 pounds), Wilfork often drew a double-team, opening opportunities for other defenders to capitalize.

“The reason why he got double-teamed so much was because they had to double-team him,” said Belichick. “He was unblockable. They couldn’t put one guy on him. They had to put two. Then, the problem was just pushed somewhere else.”

McCourty still remembers how Wilfork would instill confidence in the secondary by telling them not to worry about the run. Wilfork, a five-time Pro Bowler, insisted that his unit could handle anything up front, allowing the defensive backs to focus solely on pass coverage.

Wilfork, who won two Super Bowls, rarely filled up categories within the box score, but his play allowed for other defensive players to do just that.

“The reason why anybody had any stats on the field was because he was out there,” said senior football adviser Matt Patricia, the team’s defensive coordinator for Wilfork’s final three seasons in New England.

On top of his high-level play, Belichick expressed an appreciation for Wilfork’s honesty within captain meetings. According to Belichick, Wilfork, a seven-time captain, was one of the handful who would push back and say, “Coach, what are you doing? You messed up on this. What are you thinking about?”

“You need that,” he said. “Vince was one of those guys that wasn’t afraid to speak up.”

In addition to Belichick, Kraft, McCourty, and Patricia, several former Patriots attended Saturday’s festivities. Among them were special teams captain Matthew Slater, linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, wide receivers coach (and fellow Patriots Hall of Fame inductee) Troy Brown, Pro Football Hall of Famer Andre Tippett, and former cornerback Marquice Cole.

To close his remarks, an emotional Wilfork took time to share his gratitude.

“I have the greatest teammates ever,” he said, holding back tears. “The greatest fans ever. The greatest owner ever. The greatest coach ever. Everybody that I worked with and encountered throughout my whole career, trainers, staff, business, equipment managers, [vice president of communications] Stacey [James], the media.

“But especially my teammates. You made my life a lot easier. And I will forever be grateful for that. So, I want to say thank you to everyone. I love all of you. Without you, there wouldn’t be no me. I really, really appreciate the love that you have always shown me.”

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