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Harrison, Wilfork Among 25 Pro Football Hall of Fame Semifinalists

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New England Patriots DT Vince Wilfork

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced their 25 semifinalists for the Class of 2024 on Tuesday. Included among the group were two New England Patriots Hall of Famers. Safety Rodney Harrison and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork each made the cut. It will be the third time for each player included among the semifinalists.

Despite winning three Super Bowls in four seasons from 2001-to-2004, that edition of the Patriots has only had two members inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame to date. Cornerback Ty Law was a member of the Class of 2019. Three years later, Law was joined by defensive lineman Richard Seymour.

There will be at least four inductees from that run in coming years. Owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady, and placekicker Adam Vinatieri will all be heading to Canton before long. However even at six, that run of greatness to leave New England under-represented compared to their peers from previous decades. Perhaps Harrison and Wilfork can help to straighten out that ratio

The 25 semifinalists were selected from 173 nominees named in September. That initial list included 22 former Patriots.

Rodney Harrison

Harrison began his career in San Diego. He was a a fifth round pick of the Chargers in 1994 after playing college football for Western Illinois. By 1996 he was a full-time starter, and in 1998 he was selected to his first Pro Bowl. That year, Harrison was also named an All-Pro. After his first nine seasons with San Diego, Harrison joined the New England Patriots prior to the 2003 season.

Rodney Harrison would play his final six seasons in Foxboro. He helped the Patriots win the Super Bowl in each of his first two seasons in New England. During those championship runs, Harrison had six interceptions in six playoff games. He proved to play his best when it mattered most. He was also the starting safety on the 2007 Patriots, the first NFL team to finish with a 16-0 regular season record.

Along with Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, Rodney Harrison is one of only two players to record at least 30 sacks and 30 interceptions during their NFL careers.

New England Patriots' Rodney Harrison returns an interception 87 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter of the AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, Jan. 23, 2005, in Pittsburgh. He is one of 25 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2024. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

New England Patriots’ Rodney Harrison returns an interception 87 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter of the AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, Jan. 23, 2005, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Reputation

Despite being a two-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro, Harrison’s individual accolades are not as impressive as they should be. Voting for awards can be a popularity contest. Harrison’s reputation for being a dirty player did not make him popular.

In 2004 Harrison finished fourth in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting, was named first team All-Pro, yet was not voted to the Pro Bowl. In fact, 2001 would be the last year Harrison’s peers voted him to the Pro Bowl. He was voted “dirtiest player” in player surveys in both 2004 and 2006. In 2008 an ESPN survey of coaches again identified Harrison as the NFL’s “dirtiest player.” This  reputation obviously affected his ability to garner awards.

Why Isn’t he Already In?

A reputation for dirty play wasn’t the only thing holding back Harrison’s candidacy. The prime of his career was divided up between two decades, the 1990’s and 2000’s. When players get voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “All Decade” honors are always mentioned. Although the timing of his career prevented him from adding that honor to his resume, the prime of his career was the best of any safety in the NFL. From 1995-to-2004, Harrison was one of only seven NFL players with over 1,000 tackles, and the only non-linebacker among that group. He also led all NFL safeties during that 10-year span in both tackles for loss (36) and sacks (27.5) sacks. His sack total with 9.0 more than any other safety during that stretch.

Rodney Harrison was first eligible to be part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2014, but was not even named a semifinalist for another seven years. Since 2014, peers to be elected who played safety include Brian Dawkins, Ed Reed, Steve Atwater, Troy Polamalu, John Lynch, and LeRoy Butler. Dallas Cowboys safety Darren Woodson joins Harrison among this year’s semifinalists.

Vince Wilfork

Wilfork was a first round pick by the New England Patriots (#21 overall) in the 2004 NFL Draft. He would play the first 11 of his 13 NFL seasons with the Patriots, before joining the Houston Texans for the final two.

In Vince Wilfork’s rookie season he won his first Super Bowl. Like Harrison, he won two Super Bowls in New England, and was also a starter on the 2007 undefeated 16-0 regular season squad.

Along with Tom Brady, Wilfork is one of only two players to bridge the New England Patriots Super Bowl Eras. He was part of the group that won three from 2001-to-2004, and the group that won three from 2014-to-2018. While he did not a member of every team like Brady, Wilfork was a member of both the 2004 and 2014 Lombardi Trophy winners.

Honors, Awards, Etc.

Vince Wilfork was voted to five Pro Bowl teams, all between 2007 and 2012. He was named an All-Pro in 2012. He was also named second-team All-Pro on three other occasions.

During his 11 years with the New England Patriots, Wilfork played in the NFL Playoffs ten times. This included seven AFC Championship Games and four Super Bowls. WIlfok is one of ten players in NFL history to start 22 postseason games. Only New England Patriots teammate Devin McCourty (24) has started more among defensive players.

Like Harrison, Wilfork has been inducted into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame.

Why Isn’t he Already In?

Defensive tackle is not a position known for accumulating statistics. Especially as somebody, like Wilfork, who is a run stuffer, or whose main responsibility is to occupy blockers. These lack of statistics kept Richard Seymour from reaching Canton far longer than was reasonable. Just the same, Wilfork finished his career, including postseason, with 645 tackles, 46 TFL, and 19.0 sacks. He even showed off his athleticism with three interceptions. No defensive tackle made more tackles during the years Wilfork played in the NFL.

Wilfork has been eligible for enshrinement since the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2021. He has been a semifinalist in all of those years. Seymour and Bryant Young are the only non-Veterans Committee nominees to play defensive tackle voted in during that span. He is the only defensive tackles among this year’s 25 semifinalists.

Other Semifinalists for Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2024

Along with Rodney Harrison and Vince Wilfork, there are two other players with New England Patriots ties among this group of 25. Running back Fred Taylor and linebacker James Harrison each finished their career in New England. However, the pair are better known for their careers with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers, respectively.

Tight end Antonio Gates and defensive end Julius Peppers are the only first-year eligible candidates that made the cut.

The complete list of 25 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2024

Running Backs (4): Tiki Barber, Eddie George, Fred Taylor, Ricky Watters

Wide Receivers (6): Anquan Boldin, Torry Holt, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, Sr., Hines Ward, Reggie Wayne

Tight Ends (1): Antonio Gates

Offensive Linemen (2): Will Anderson, Jahri Evans

Defensive Tackle (1): Vince Wilfork

Defensive Ends (4): Jared Allen, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Julius Peppers

Linebackers (3): London Fletcher, James Harrison, Patrick Willis

Cornerbacks (1): Eric Allen

Safety (2): Rodney Harrison, Darren Woodson

Return Specialist (1): Devin Hester

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