Much like the two high-profile corners that the Patriots picked up this offseason, Raymond Clayborn relished his chances to get physical with receivers and knock them off their routes.
Back in the 1970s and 80s Clayborn was a lockdown defender on the outside for the Patriots, helping to lead them to the team's first Super Bowl berth during the 1985 season.
On Wednesday, he was announced as one of three finalists up for nomination into the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2014. His immediate reaction to the news revealed some of the confidence it requires to play the cornerback position, regardless of the era.
"Why," he asked, "did it take so long?"
At 6-feet, 186 pounds, Clayborn doesn't have the same size that players like Darrelle Revis (6-0, 205) and Brandon Browner (6-4, 221) will bring to the New England secondary in 2014. But like them, he liked to make opposing receivers make adjustments by playing physically.
"I definitely preferred man-to-man [coverage]," Clayborn said. "I wanted to challenge them on every play whether it be a run or pass. Because most of the time when it was a run play, and you’re right up on them, they’re going to block you. So I had to get aggressive with them and I tried to do the same in pass coverage. Try to force them off what they wanted to do and try to guide them into what I wanted them to do, speaking of wide receivers."
Clayborn was one of the key members of the Patriots team that earned a momentous AFC title game win over Miami to get New England to Super Bowl XX where they lost to the Bears, 46-10.
"Well, having [won the AFC Championship] in Miami, a place that I believe most of us, I believe all of us on the team had never won there before, a regular season game, let alone a playoff game. So having to go down there and we won the AFC Championship down there, it was really special. I think we enjoyed it so much, we forgot about the next game, the Super Bowl. We had a great, great team that season."
Clayborn is a Patriots Hall of Fame finalist along with former Pats corner Ty Law and coach Bill Parcells. Clayborn and Law share the franchise record for interceptions (36), though Clayborn explained that Law likely would have surpassed him had Law not been injured in his final season with the team.
Clayborn, 59, explained that he was honored to be selected as a finalist along with Parcells and Law -- one current and one future Pro Football Hall of Fame, Clayborn believes.
The three-time Pro Bowler, who was also a talented kick returner while with the Patriots, now resides in his home state of Texas where he is recovering from prostate cancer surgery that he underwent in November.
"It will be six months [since surgery] on May 24," he said. "It will be a milestone and I hope things start to get better, but I’m hanging in there."