Wilfork's road to New England included a Houston pass


Wilfork's road to New England included a Houston pass

Saturday could very well be the last game of Vince Wilfork’s prolific career. He’ll play it for the Texans against the Patriots.

Of course, he’ll always be associated with the latter far more than with the former. But what if the Texans drafted him when they could (and should) have?

This isn’t an “every team failed by not drafting Tom Brady in the first round” thing; each draft has its diamonds in the rough. Vince Wilfork wasn’t a diamond in the rough, though. He was a top prospect in the 2004 draft, ranked 11th by ESPN’s Scouts, Inc. and 13th on Mel Kiper Jr.’s big board. The Texans needed help on the defensive line, played a 3-4 and had the 10th overall pick. 

They would end up going defensive tackle in the first round a year later (Travis Johnson), but their passing on Wilfork in 2004 created a slide that did wonders for the defending champion Patriots, who should also remain grateful to the Ravens for trading them what ended up being the 21st pick in that draft.

Holding a top-10 pick, as Houston did, means being able to go in a number of different directions and come away with what could be a stud. If the Texans wanted to soften the annual beating David Carr took, they could have taken Shawn Andrews or Vernon Carey. If they wanted to pull the plug on Carr altogether after two seasons, they could have opted for Ben Roethlisberger.  

That Texans team was dreadful against the pass (31st in passing yards allowed), so Charlie Casserly went cornerback and took Dunta Robinson out of South Carolina. 

Had the Texans gone D-tackle, they’d have had their choice of Wilfork and Oklahoma’s Tommie Harris. By taking neither, that choice was passed on to the D-tackle-needy Bears, who opted for Harris. That pick was nothing to sneeze at, as Harris was a three-time Pro Bowler for Chicago. 

Once the Bears took Harris, the possibility of Wilfork falling to a team -- the Patriots -- that had just lost Ted Washington in free agency was in play. Six teams needed to turn their attention elsewhere and it would be a reality. 

That draft was considered to be loaded at receiver, so it stood to reason that at least one of those teams would take one. The Buccaneers did, taking Michael Clayton 15th overall and making him one of what remains an NFL-record seven receivers chosen in the first round. 

With top-rated guard Shawn Andrew on the board, the Eagles traded up from No. 28 to 16 to grab him. The Broncos, who had previously traded Deltha O’Neal to Cincinnati to move from No. 24 to 17, went outside linebacker with D.J. Williams. 

Wilfork wasn’t the only guy starting to slide, and that helped the Pats’ chances of getting him. The Saints got good value with Will Smith at No. 18, at which point the Vikings and Dolphins flipped the No. 19 and 20 picks. The Dolphins took Carey, and given that the Vikings had selected Kevin Williams 19th overall a year earlier and also had Chris Hovan, they didn’t seem a landing spot for Wilfork. They weren’t, as Minnesota took highly regarded defensive end Kenechi Udeze. 

Had the Patriots not already shipped a second-round pick to Cincinnati for Corey Dillon that offseason, perhaps they might have had a decision to make with Steven Jackson having also slid. Taking Wilfork was a no-brainer, however, and his selection played a major factor in them getting to four Super Bowls and winning two. Wilfork was a five-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro (first team once, second team three times). 

Robinson had a fine six seasons for the Texans before money ruined the relationship and he fled for Atlanta in free agency. The Texans obviously ended up getting Wilfork in the 2014 offseason, but it’s interesting to wonder what the trickle-down effect for both franchises would have been had they taken him in ’04.

Bean: Texans were worse for wear when they came to Foxboro in letterman jackets

Bean: Texans were worse for wear when they came to Foxboro in letterman jackets

Arian Foster knew when he tried on his letterman jacket days ahead of the Texans’ 2012 Monday Night Football game against the Patriots that something was wrong. 

Here stood one of the best running backs on the planet, playing on a team with an NFL-best 11-1 record, going against a Lombardi Trophy factory and he was dressed like a high-schooler. The problem was obvious. 

The sleeves were too short. 

And so Joe Dotterweich, hired on short notice for his Houston-based Bull Shirts screen-printing and embroidery company to make Texans defensive lineman Shaun Cody’s team-bonding dream a reality, assured the star back that he’d be matching his teammates in no time. 

“All right, I’ll get you another one,” he responded.

The Texans’ letterman jackets live in infamy. They became an immediate punchline for a team that would go on to take a 42-14 drubbing from the Pats, lose three of their last four regular-season games, miss out on a first-round bye and lose to the Patriots again in the divisional round. 

But before the tweets, jokes and everything else bad associated with the jackets, they were meant to be a token of the new kids on the block’s camaraderie. 

“I used to say before the season it feels like we’re on a college team,” then-Texans linebacker Connor Barwin, who helped design the jackets, told the Houston Chronicle at the time. “Everybody gets along, we have so much fun. And this jacket, you feel like you’re on a high school team where it’s all about winning, it’s all about being around a group of guys. This jacket is just another symbol of that. There’s no names on it. You just have your number, your position group and the Texans logo.”

As Dotterweich recalls, Cody’s idea had been kicking around for a bit, but it wasn’t until the days leading up to Houston’s win over Miami the previous week that the decision was made to actually get them made for the Patriots game. So Barwin and then-Texans equipment director Jay Brunetti came up with the design and brought it to Bull Shirts. 

Dotterweich, who had worked with the team before, took on the job knowing it was a biggie: Something like 80 jackets, many in wonky sizes, all custom made with the finest materials. Real leather, no synthetic stuff. Also, because Dotterweich didn’t have an NFL license, he had to get the permission from Texans owner Bob McNair to use the team logo and Pantone Matching System colors. 

Yes, the letterman jacket operation went straight to the top. 

From roster players to practice squad players to coaches and other members of the organization, an estimated 80 jackets were made. A job like that would normally take Bull Shirts about four to six weeks. They did it in 10 days, including a full day of measuring all the players. Everything was made in Texas. 

In a move that makes it either more or less gimmicky depending on how you look at it, the Texans didn’t actually pay for the jackets. The players paid for them, with 100 percent participation. All in all, the order ran somewhere between $16,000 and $20,000. 

"There wasn’t one guy on the team that said, ‘You know what? That’s a stupid idea. I’m not gonna do it. I’ll pass,’ ” Dotterweich recalled. 

When the jackets were delivered to the Texans’ locker room on the Friday before the game, they were a hit. Players loved them and they garnered tons of media attention. Bull Shirts was bombarded with over 2,000 requests for identical jackets by the public, but Dotterweich honored a gentleman’s agreement made with Brunetti in which he promised to not make them for anyone else. 

Then the game happened, and it was never close. The Patriots scored the first 28 points, never looked back and everyone took it out on the jackets.  

If the Texans had won that game, they’d have been studs. Going into Foxboro, beating Tom Brady and doing it in dopeass jackets with all the fixings? That’s as close to cool as anything associated with J.J. Watt gets. 

Instead, it was essentially the moment when Sarah Marshall walks into the resort and Peter’s embarrassment is compounded by the fact that he’s wearing “this [expletive] shirt.” 

Watt deflected questions about the whereabouts of his jacket when asked earlier this season. Dotterweich has one he keeps in his store – an Andre Johnson one that was re-done. 

As for the rest of the team, you’d have to ask those guys one by one. The retired Cody still has his, and he defended the jackets’ honor when the Pats shut out the Texans in Week 3 this season.