Fred Marion was a mainstay at safety throughout the 1980’s for the Pats. He had a phenomenal season in 1985 with seven interceptions for an incredible 189 yards. His success continued in the postseason, where he picked off three more balls for 69 additional yards. He was right at home in the Orange Bowl for the AFC Championship game. He played his college ball for the University of Miami and made a key interception off Dan Marino in the 31-14 victory.
Jimmy Hitchcock wore #31 during his first stint as a member of the Patriots. He played nickel back for Coach Parcells and Coach Belichick for the 1996 AFC champion Patriots. Hitchcock got a lot more playing time and a 100-yard interception return in 1997. His best season by a landslide, though, occurred in 1998 when Hitchcock played for the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings. He piled up 242 yards and three touchdowns on interceptions. He played one more uneventful season late in his career with New England wearing #37.
Pro Bowl Safety
Brandon Meriweather was a very talented safety for New England from 2007-10. In fact, he made the AFC Pro Bowl team in 2009 and 2010. Meriweather was a bright spot on an inconsistent defense in ’09, as he picked off five passes for 149 yards. He played five more seasons with three different teams, but never got back to the Pro Bowl and never even played another full season after his time in New England.
Future Hall of Famer?
Aqib Talib had kind of a strange tenure with New England. When he was on the field, he was lights out on the corner. The bad news for the Pats is he was knocked out early in consecutive AFC Championship game defeats. In the second of those contests, it was Wes Welker that delivered the shot that eliminated Talib from the contest. Talib has recorded an unreal ten lifetime interception return touchdowns and owns a Super Bowl ring with the 2015 Broncos.
Larry Centers was a long time member of the Cardinals and one of the all-time leaders in receptions by a running back in NFL history. Centers earned a Super Bowl ring in his last pro season with the 2003 Pats. His play of the season was a 28-yard reception versus the Colts in the AFC championship game. The Super Bowl XXXVIII victory over Carolina was Centers’ last game in an excellent 14-year career.
Georgia-alum Andy Johnson was drafted by the Patriots in 1974 and played his entire nine-year career in New England. He had a fine 1976 season in which he scored 10 touchdowns and gained over 1,000 yards all-purpose.
Craig James was the next #32 worthy of mention. James came out of SMU highly touted as Eric Dickerson’s backfield mate in the “Pony Express.” James had his standout season in 1985 as he rushed for over 1,200 yards. In the Super Bowl, James was humiliated as was the rest of the Pats that night. One of the iconic plays from that Super Bowl was James getting smashed by Richard Dent, fumbling the ball and unable to retrieve it as he was being mauled by half the defense.
James became far better known as a college football analyst with ESPN.
Leonard Russell was a throwback runner for the Patriots from 1991-1993. He only averaged 3.4 yards per rush during his time with the Patriots, but carried the ball some 700 times in 43 career games so he was a workhorse. He was really good at getting touchdowns at the goal line.
Respect if you remember that Willie Clay was New England’s starting free safety in Super Bowl XXXI. His best season with the Patriots came in 1997 when he intercepted six passes for 109 yards.
Super Bowl Champs
Antowain Smith was a very important contributor for the Patriots’ first two Super Bowl-winning teams. In 2001, his power rushes helped young Tom Brady keep the offense on the field just long enough to score a few points. In Super Bowl XXXVIII, Smith smashed home for a huge fourth quarter TD in a win over the Panthers. He was let go after 2003 and replaced with Corey Dillon.
Our last #32 will retire as the best of the bunch. Devon McCourty came on to the scene as a rookie cornerback in 2010 and made the Pro Bowl right off the bat. In addition to playing corner well early in his career, McCourty was a solid kick returner. McCourty eventually made the move to safety where he has been one of the NFL’s best over the past 5 seasons. He has gone 2-2 in Super Bowl appearances and was selected to the Pro Bowl following the 2016 season.
Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_bills