Of all the great athletes who currently call Boston home, Vince Wilfork’s greatness is the hardest to quantify. That’s because sheer numbers don’t do him justice. Despite being one of the best defensive players to ever wear a Patriots uniform and a borderline Hall of Famer at that, Wilfork only ranks 19th in franchise history in sacks, 13th in tackles and 12th in forced fumbles. There are Sundays when you can watch an entire game and not hear Wilfork’s name called once.
It’s the nature of his position. But while it might not be as easy to put your finger on Wilfork’s greatness as it is with someone like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski or just about anyone else on the field, we know it exists. The five Pro Bowls, the one All-Pro season, week after week of double teams and opposing coaches gushing over his mere presence.
For nearly a decade, Wilfork has been a staple on that defensive line and just as importantly in that huddle and in that locker room. There’s no denying how much he meant to this team, how much he’s done for New England since arriving in 2004 and how much they’ll miss him in the wake of Sunday night’s season-ending ACL injury.
That’s not to say that his absence marks the end New England’s title hopes. It won’t be easy, but they’ll find a way to pick up the slack. Hey, Belichick found a way to win 11 games with Matt Cassel at quarterback. The Pats only gave up 46 yards on the ground after Wilfork went out on Sunday. It might be impossible to completely fill the void, but in today’s pass happy NFL, you imagine that the defense will make do. At least in the regular season. Even without Vince the Pats should still post double-digit wins and cruise to another AFC East title. The playoffs might be a different story, but we’ll deal with that when they get there.
In the meantime, the season moves on. Players — most notably Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Tommy Kelly on the D-Line — will have to step up. New leaders will have to emerge. And the train will keep rolling. But even if they succeed, it won’t be the same without Vince Wilfork.
Anytime a player goes down for the season, there’s a personal and emotional aspect to the loss. Obviously for the player, but also for the fans. And from that perspective, it doesn’t get much more personal than Wilfork. He might not be from here, but over the last decade he’s thrown himself into this community. He’s been more open and accessible to this city than Brady and Belichick combined. His loss hurts even more because fans know how much it hurts him. You look at the picture his wife Bianca tweeted out after today’s surgery and you can’t help but feel especially horrible for the big guy.
And you can only hope and assume that he’ll be back on his feet as soon as he can, working his ass off to get back on the field in 2014 for one more season of hard to quantify but undeniable greatness.
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