Vince Wilfork added a new line to his résumé Tuesday, becoming the 32nd player to be elected to the New England Patriots Hall of Fame.
A few hours later, the Patriots great explained why he deserves another title, too: best nose tackle of all time.
Unprompted, Wilfork passionately stated his case for why he’s one of, if not the greatest player ever to play his position.
“I believe I was probably one of the best true two-gap nose tackles that ever played the game, and I would put that against anyone,” Wilfork, who won two Super Bowls and made five Pro Bowls during his 11-year Patriots tenure, said in a conference call with reporters. “I mean, I played from left to right. I played five (technique), four, three, two, one on both sides. You don’t have any noses doing that, and when you can find one, you can let me know.
“So I’ve always regarded myself as one of the best defensive tackles and the best nose tackle to ever play the game. And people can fight me on it. People can have their opinions on it. But I’m just telling you where I stand, because I was that one guy that can go from left to right defensive end and anywhere in the middle. So I was a nightmare for offenses trying to figure out where I’m going to be, and all that credit goes to Bill Belichick.”
Wilfork credited his head coach for having the wherewithal and trust to deploy the 6-foot-2, 325-pound D-tackle all over New England’s defensive front, hunting for favorable matchups and ruining opponents’ blocking schemes.
“That’s totally Bill trusting me enough to be able to learn those positions and not only play those positions, but play them at a high level,” Wilfork explained. “You can throw anybody out there and try something, but I played those positions at a very high level, so it’s not like he was just putting me out there just because we didn’t have extra bodies or anything. No, he put me out there because he knew that I was capable of doing what I needed to do out there.
“So, like I said, I’m one of the best nose tackles that ever played the game up until this point. We can leave it up for debate, but that’s just what it is. Until you find a nose tackle that can play the positions that I played, let me know, and we can talk.”
Wilfork launched into that dissertation after being asked to name his favorite play from his Patriots career. His choice: the back-to-back defensive stops he made in New England’s 2011 AFC Championship win over Baltimore.
That game was one of Wilfork’s best as a Patriot. He tallied six tackles, one sack, three tackles for loss and five hurries and helped limit running back Ray Rice — the NFL leader in scrimmage yards that season — to 67 rushing yards on 21 carries.
“I’d say the playoff game against Baltimore — the plays back-to-back,” Wilfork said. “That’s one of the ones that I probably would say go down as my favorite just because of who we were playing, what was at stake, where we were in the game. We needed plays. I always go back to those two plays — that third- and fourth-down play that I made back-to-back. Because I just remember the night before, I was reading Jack Tatum’s book, and I was just in awe at how people were afraid of him and what his mindset was and how he approached every game. That just gave me something. I had a total different mindset in that moment.
“And a lot of times, being an interior defensive lineman, a nose tackle, you don’t get a chance to steal spotlights, because we do the dirty work. We’re the afterthoughts. We’re the ones getting up the last off the pile. We’re at the bottom. We’re taking the double(-teams); we’re taking the triples. So to have a moment where I made those plays for my team, it was special to me, just because I’ve always looked at it like, ‘Man, here I am, an interior guy, and I can make the plays that I make.’ “
Wilfork made plenty during his decade-plus in New England, adding three iconic interceptions to his 16 career sacks, 38 quarterback hits, 12 fumble recoveries and scores of run stuffs. He was voted into the Patriots Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility — beating out former teammates Logan Mankins and Mike Vrabel — and was a semifinalist for the 2022 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The 40-year-old said he “never once thought about” entering either Hall of Fame during his playing career.
“But now that it’s full circle, now that I’m done, now I can sit back, and now I can say I’m a Patriot Hall of Famer,” Wilfork continued. ” … It’s an honor to be regarded as one of the best that’s ever done it for the Patriots. I love it.”