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Attleboro, Massachusetts
Copyright 2011, The Sun Chronicle
 

Sports

FARINELLA: Hall honor means a lot

Jon Morris delivers his Patriots' Hall of Fame
speech on Saturday.
(Photo courtesy of PATRIOTS.COM)
Maybe one of the few benefits of being older than dirt, as I occasionally say not-so-jokingly, is that some people have assumed that longevity yields knowledge. So it was that I was chosen to be one of the 10 members of the Patriots' "senior selection committee" for their Hall of Fame, and I'd like to think that we executed those duties well by putting Jon Morris in the team's shrine.

But I didn't know how well until Thursday afternoon, when Morris arrived at The Hall at Patriot Place to meet with the media in advance of Saturday's enshrinement ceremonies.

Now 69 and living near the wonderful golf courses of Hilton Head Island, S.C., the former center of the Patriots of the 1960s was clearly touched to have been remembered and deemed worthy to share the stage with Drew Bledsoe, who was selected by the fans' vote, and the other honored former Patriots.

There was an interesting dynamic about both selections, in fact. But in Morris' case, he had convinced himself the window had closed and left him on the outside, looking in.

Indeed, it may have. Troy Brown and Tedy Bruschi are going to be the vanguard of a host of Dynastic Era Patriots that are going to be up for nomination shortly, and the chances for any of the worthy players from other eras making it to the top of the fan voting will grow increasingly slim.
 
 
Recognizing this, the Patriots' organization (administered in this case by media relations VP Stacey James) created a procedure so that players like Morris, whose credentials stood out well beyond other players of his era, could get their due. Our august little panel is supposed to meet every five years (personally, I think we'll have to do it more often) to consider the merits of those who repeatedly earn nomination but can't break through in the voting process.

That's the fine print. In genuine human terms, Jon Morris proved that it's the right thing to do.

As he stood before photos of him in his playing days (and yes, I did see him play in person, from the cheap seats of Schaefer Stadium during the 1971 season), it was clear how genuinely touched he was to not only be honored personally, but to represent the hardy souls that toiled in the American Football League, battling each week for respect in the shadow of the established NFL.

He said one of the greatest thrills of his career was to see the late Jim Nance (also a recent Patriots Hall of Fame selection) on the cover of Sports Illustrated one week, representing how far the AFL had come. But the greatest thrill, he said, was more immediate - a Thursday afternoon in Foxboro 33 years after his playing days had ended.

Perhaps it's easy to assume that a player from "the bad ol' days" might be more deeply touched by enshrinement in a team's hall of fame than a product of the modern era. I'm sure there are some that might think that Drew Bledsoe is going through the motions of accepting his honor, having been the product of an entirely different era of football.

Don't you believe it.
 
 
Now 39, Bledsoe happily lives a simpler life with his wife and children in Bend, Ore., than when he was trying to direct the Patriots, Bills or Cowboys to victories. That seems fitting, because there was always a touch of aloofness in the tall, strong-armed quarterback from Washington State.

But Bledsoe, just like Morris, was obviously touched by the outpouring of support he had from the region's fans. More of them voted for him than for any other winner among the four former players (Stanley Morgan, Ben Coates, Nance, Sam Cunningham) to have joined the Hall through the online voting process.

Sure, we still hear from time to time from the fellowship-of-the-miserable members that denigrate Bledsoe for his lack of mobility, his quick fall from grace after his severe chest injury early in the 2001 season, and how Tom Brady has outshined him (and everyone else, for that matter) since.

Fortunately, Bledsoe's election proves that the naysayers are not representative of the whole.

Most true fans of the Patriots remembered the horrible state of the team when he arrived here as a rookie in 1993, and how he helped restore respectability and competitiveness to a franchise that was mere hours from being shipped to the shores of the Mississippi River.

Remember, Bledsoe got the Patriots to their first Super Bowl of the Kraft Era. He also is the first Patriots Hall of Fame member to have played on a Patriots team that actually won a Super Bowl - and as for those who might gleefully point out that he participated in Super Bowl XXXVI on the bench, they shouldn't have to be reminded that without Bledsoe's relief appearance in place of the injured Brady in the 2001 AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh, there's a good chance the Patriots may not have made it to New Orleans without buying tickets.

The best thing about Bledsoe's return to Foxboro is something with which any parent can relate. His three oldest boys are now old enough to understand and appreciate what this honor means. They can now share in his accomplishments in a way that they couldn't when he was actually playing. To know that a six-state region really did appreciate their dad is something that's extraordinarily special, something that adds more meaning to the videotapes of his games that may seem like ancient history to them.

As you know, I also serve on the committee that decides the nominations for the fan balloting. Four of the five individuals selected by the fan's vote during my watch have been able to return to Foxboro and enjoy the moment personally. Jim Nance left us years ago, but his daughter, Rachel, was a worthy representative.

For each one of them, and now for Drew Bledsoe and Jon Morris, being honored by their former team has a meaning that almost can't be put into words unless you've actually lived it.

I'm truly happy that I've played the smallest of roles in helping them enjoy that moment.

MARK FARINELLA may be reached at 508-236-0315 or via e-mail at mfarinel@thesunchronicle.com. Read Farinella's blog, "Blogging Fearlessly," at thesunchronicle.com/farinella.

 

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JON MORRIS

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A member of the
American Football League Hall of Fame

 

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