Former New England Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest was a guest on “The Bill Simmons Podcast” this week, and his interview produced a treasure trove of great Patriots stories.
We highlighted some particularly interesting snippets below, but the entire podcast is well worth a listen for any Pats fan.
— When the Patriots drafted McGinest fourth overall in 1994, he was stunned. The Dallas Cowboys had planned to trade up to No. 5 to take the former USC star and even sent representatives to McGinest’s draft party.
“The Dallas hat was on the table, they were there, and they were going to trade up and take me (with the) fifth pick,” McGinest said. “So I thought I was going to Dallas, actually. No conversations with (Patriots coach Bill) Parcells. I visited once. We had an interesting conversation when I was there, and that was it.”
McGinest went on to describe that conversation.
“(Parcells) showed me two tapes,” he said. “He showed me one tape where I had a bad game and one tape against Penn State, where I had a great game. And he was like, ‘If I draft you, which Willie McGinest am I going to get?’ And I was like, ‘Of course, (the second) one. I had a bad game. That’s not me. Look at the rest of the tape.’ He’s like, ‘I know what the rest of the tape looks like. I’m asking you, which guy am I going to get?’ And I’m like, ‘There’s no question, you’re going to get that guy — the Penn State guy.’ And he was like, ‘All right, kid.’ And that was it. I didn’t come in for a personal workout, anything. That was it.”
— In McGinest’s third season, the Patriots reached Super Bowl XXXI, losing to Brett Favre’s Green Bay Packers 35-21. The nail in New England’s coffin came in the form of Desmond Howard’s 99-yard kickoff return touchdown, which McGinest still laments.
“Can I tell you something about that?” McGinest said. “(Patriots receiver) Troy Brown was supposed to be on kickoff. They took him off because of an injury, and they didn’t know if he was ready. I guess they were trying to save him a little bit.
“So Troy ended up not being on the kickoff. We had another guy in that exact same lane that Howard broke. He got out of his lane; he lost lane discipline. That is the exact same spot Troy Brown I guarantee, 1,000 percent, would have been in and made that play. And that was the momentum swing.”
— McGinest recalled Bill Belichick’s arrival as Patriots head coach in 2000. Belichick completely reshaped New England’s roster over the course of his first year with the team, turning a squad that finished 5-11 in his first season into a Super Bowl champion in 2001.
“He had his way,” McGinest said, “and you could tell immediately that he was going to incorporate his style of football and his style of player. … I’m glad I was one of his guys. But if you weren’t on board and you didn’t fit that prototype, you were out of there. There was only a small group of guys he kept.”
Belichick recently reminisced on how awful the 2000 Patriots were.
— Belichick worked the Patriots hard in practice, but McGinest was thankful for it.
“The work to get to Sunday, if you’re going to be great, that’s where you win,” he said. “And we realized that early. I think that’s the effect Belichick had on us as players. … We developed an attitude and a sense of thought that, going into Sunday’s game, we knew we were going to kick somebody’s ass before we even lined up. We just knew it.”
— McGinest, who played from 1994 to 2008, rattled off the names of some of the quarterbacks he was tasked with defending during his career. It was an impressive list, to say the least:
“I think I played against the greatest quarterbacks ever,” he said. “I don’t think there will ever be a span of great quarterbacks that anybody will play against (better) than I did.”
Thumbnail photo via Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images