Hannable: Vince Wilfork was more than just a great football player, which is why he’s so beloved

Ryan Hannable
August 09, 2017 - 10:33 pm

Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports

FOXBORO — Vince Wilfork finished his 13-year NFL career with 370 tackles, 16 sacks and three interceptions, but the reality is he was much more than just a dominant defensive tackle, the best Bill Belichick has ever coached.

Everyone knew the stories of Wilfork being a great teammate and having the team over to his house for cookouts, etc., but those stories were just a small part of what Wilfork was. 

Wilfork formally announced his retirement at Gillette Stadium Wednesday afternoon where a large number of his former Patriots teammates attended and Robert Kraft and Belichick spoke prior to Wilfork.

The two shared some stories which became public for the first time. These tales further proved Wilfork was not only just a great football player, he was an even better teammate and person.

He had a special relationship with Kraft, the owner of the team since he was drafted No. 21 overall in 2004.

When Kraft’s wife Myra’s health started to decline in 2010, Wilfork and his wife Bianca gave Kraft a medallion, which had a picture of Robert and Myra on it, similar to one Wilfork wore with his late parents.

“It was something that was very meaningful and the two of them on the back had said ‘Cherish Love’ and I think that’s what Vince, in many ways, is,” Kraft said. “He’s a big man physically, but he’s a very special human being and for those of us that get a chance to see him in person, we get to know that and that’s why he was such a great member of our team, too. He was very passionate as well. When my beloved wife passed away, I wore this every day for 11 months.”  

Also, Wilfork had a tradition where he would kiss Myra and Robert on the cheek when walking off the field following pregame warmups prior to games. When Myra passed, Wilfork changed his routine.

“The first game that came after she died, it was here in August, first preseason game, and he came over and gave me a kiss on one cheek and then he kissed me on the other cheek and said, ‘This is for Momma.’ And then he looked up,” said Kraft. “It’s just really cool. And I must say, he was also dripping sweat, but that was sweat I very much enjoyed sharing. He kept that up for his entire career, he would always give me a kiss for Momma.”

The year after Myra passed away, the Krafts invited the Wiforks on their family vacation to Florence. Not many owners, if any at all, would invite one of their players on a family vacation, but Wilfork wasn’t just another player.

Belichick rarely opens up, but he sure did on Wednesday speaking of Wilfork’s impact. 

The coach spoke of how he would have weekly meetings with the team captains to address any concerns the team had about anything. Wilfork was always the guy to bring things up no one else wanted to. 

According to Belichick, Wilfork was “the captain of the captains.”

“Sometimes the captains individually might not want to bring something up to me, and I knew that they would, like ‘Vince, you gotta bring this up to coach because I’m not bringing it up,” he said. “But you need to bring it up.’ And Vince would be the guy to do that and that’s how much respect they had for him. I leaned on him very heavily in terms of what the team needed, how to prepare for a game, where we were at a certain point in each week or where we were at each point in the season.”

It was an emotional press conference, but Wilfork choked up speaking of his late parents. His father died of kidney failure in 2002 and then his mom died in December of the same year following complications from a stroke.

“My parents didn’t get a chance to see their son live out a dream he told them at the age of four I was going to be,” he said. “Physically, it hurt every day. It hurt by the hour. Daily. Not a minute [went] by, but I know they had the best seat in the house.

“I love you.”

For 13 seasons we were able to see Wilfork the football player, but for an hour on Wednesday, the curtain was peeled away and we learned Wilfork was an even better person than anyone thought. 

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