Vince Wilfork accomplished a great deal during his 11 seasons with the New England Patriots. He was a five-time Pro Bowl pick, a four-time All-Pro, a two-time Super Bowl champion and a favorite of fans and teammates alike.
On Saturday night, the 35-year-old nose tackle will return to Gillette Stadium — the field he dominated for more than a decade — for what very well could be the final game of his storied career.
Wilfork, now with the Houston Texans, told reporters before the playoffs began that he is considering retirement, meaning this weekend’s divisional-round game against the heavily favored Patriots could be his swan song if Houston is unable to pull off what would be a monumental upset.
Speaking Tuesday in a conference call with New England reporters, Wilfork said he plans to wait until season’s end before making his final decision.
“At this point in my career, (retirement) is something I’ll think heavily about once the season ends and see what I really want to do,” said Wilfork, a first-round draft pick of the Patriots in 2004 who played for them through 2014. “It’s hard to walk away from something that you love and you’ve been playing for so long, but we can’t play the game forever.
“So that’s a decision I’ll make at the end of the season — give it some time and some thought, weigh different things and go from there. But whenever I make that decision, I’m full-fledged making the decision. I won’t be one of those ones to call it quits and then say, ‘No, I’m not retiring. I’m coming back,’ and play that game. When it’s time to hang my cleats up, I’m going to hang them up for good.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick declined to discuss his admiration for Wilfork during his Tuesday news conference, saying he’s simply focused on this weekend’s game. He had no such reservations during his conference call with Houston reporters, however, going deep on the tremendous impact Wilfork had on the Patriots organization.
“I have all the respect in the world for Vince,” Belichick said in the call. “He and (his wife) Bianca and his family have been great assets to this organization, and I thoroughly enjoyed the time that I had to coach Vince from when he came into the league and his time here and the great success that he had and we had together. He’s a great player. He was a great attribute to this football organization. I know he’s respected from the top to the bottom and everywhere in between.”
That’s about the greatest compliment Belichick has given a former player. But he didn’t stop there. The coach went on to praise Wilfork’s off-the-field contributions as well as his incredible athleticism, citing the 325-pounder’s three career interceptions as proof of the latter.
“He and Bianca did a great job of having player groups — defensive line, defense, whoever it happened to be — at their house and off-the-field functions that built team chemistry and things like that,” Belichick said. “I just can’t say enough about Vince and how professional he is, what a great athlete, how light on his feet he is for his size and the kind of balance and quickness (he has).
“We know he’s a strong, explosive player — the interceptions that he’s had through his career and things like that and just athletic plays that he probably doesn’t get recognized for. But when you coach him day to day, you have a great appreciation for him.”
Thumbnail photo via Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports Images