On the surface, the centerpiece of the interactive game the Patriots [team stats] launched on their website yesterday, the player the team has placed at the forefront of the promotion with their young fans, is a mammoth nose tackle.
No, Vince Wilfork [stats] doesn’t play the rock star quarterback role like Tom Brady [stats]. He isn’t a ridiculously talented wide receiver like Randy Moss.
He’s an in-the-trenches, get rough, get dirty, smack-you-in-the-mouth defensive lineman who has evolved into one of the primary faces of the franchise, if not the face.
Sound a little odd? It shouldn’t. There really isn’t a better man for the job.
He’s joined the ranks of Tedy Bruschi [stats] and Troy Brown [stats] as the Pats signature player because of how he’s carried himself on and off the field. The Pats wouldn’t be comfortable using just anybody for the “Help Vince” campaign, a promotional game fans play on their smartphones and receive clues on patriots.com to help Wilfork find his “stolen” Super Bowl ring. They want someone who is well respected, who is plugged in to the Internet and has a keen connection with the fans.
Big Vince meets all those criteria.
“All my career, I’ve tried to separate myself from the average defensive lineman. I always try to separate myself on and off the field,” Wilfork said by phone from his Florida home yesterday. “I think the toughest part is separating myself off the field. It’s easy to be a running back or a quarterback or a receiver or a defensive back or a linebacker and get a lot of face time and a bunch of marketing deals or whatever it may be.
“When you’re in the trenches, it’s tougher, because we’re not seen all the time . . . but why can’t it be something different? Anybody can pick a quarterback or someone in a skill position and put their face on it. Why not go a different route. After all, at the end of the day, it all starts up front (on the field). It starts with the hogs up front.”
Wilfork has watched and learned from some of the best in the game, players he wanted to emulate both for how they approached their jobs and represented the jerseys they wore. He’s followed along the same path, between earning individual honors (Pro Bowl, All-Pro), and capturing the ultimate team award (Super Bowl).
Wilfork has stated from Day 1 his intention of being a Patriot for life, and while his recent contract negotiation had some sticky points, it never got ugly a la Logan Mankins [stats]. It reached an amicable conclusion, with the nose tackle signing a five-year extension. With that type of security, it’s easier to achieve cornerstone status, which is what he has on defense while Brady maintains that cache with the offense.
“I’ve played with a bunch of guys over the years, Tedy Bruschi, Rodney (Harrison), (Richard) Seymour, Willie McGinest, (Mike) Vrabel, all these guys were leaders on and off the field,” Wilfork said. “When you talk Patriot football, those are the guys’ names that pop up and always stand out. When you walk through the halls, and see all the pictures, you’ve seen tons of pictures of these guys because they built the organization from the ground up because they went through the tough times.
“They created something that’s very rare with all those Super Bowl runs. And I learned from all those guys. And I want to try to set myself up like those guys,” Wilfork added. “All those guys are real good guys off the field, not only on the field, but off the field, too. They taught me a bunch of stuff, and you just carry that over. You try to move forward with that, because at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, I want to go down as a Patriot, and being one of the Patriots who people say played the game how it was supposed to be played, and also did really well by the community. I always looked at those guys, and got inspiration from those guys.”
Wilfork also credited his wife Bianca with helping create his image off the field, one that has been built on charitable endeavors. The couple hosts an annual draft day fund-raiser to support the Diabetes Research Institute. Wilfork is also an active member of the Mass. Mentoring partnership.
“Now, it’s to the point, everything has hatched,” Wilfork said. “We’re looking at some things now where we laid the foundation years ago. Now it’s all starting to bloom.”Click here to order Vince Wilfork’s proCane Rookie Card.