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Monday, March 20, 2017

Sunday Flashback: Underrated but amazing Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel





March 20, 2017

By Hector Longo

To be honest, former New England Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel is just too nice a guy to be considered one of the all-time great defensive killers.

Think of Nitschke and Butkus, Lawrence Taylor and Junior Seau. Man, those guys always had a sneer. Vrabel, especially during his Patriots days from 2001 to 2007, rarely could be seen on the football field or around it without a smile. Even today, the last time he came to Foxboro as a Houston Texans assistant coach back in January following their playoff loss to the Patriots, Vrabel’s smile beamed from the locker room. Trust me, this guy hates losing, but he’s got such a positive disposition.

That outlook and an amazing mind for the game helped turn Vrabel from a solid but unspectacular Pittsburgh Steeler into a big-time game-breaker with the Patriots after Bill Belichick brought him to Foxboro following the 2000 season.

Vrabel comes to mind today because he popped up in an interesting linebacker graphic that was part of Ben Volin’s Sunday notes column in the Boston Globe that compared numbers from the likes of Seau, Vrabel, Joey Porter, Clay Matthews, Greg Lloyd, Seth Joyner and Mo Lewis.

Vrabel’s time in Foxboro was an era of linebacker greatness, both on the field and off it. They were characters — and they were playmakers. They were the ultimate winners. And it wasn’t just the biggest names like Vrabel, Willie McGinest and Tedy Bruschi. Think about Ted Johnson, Bryan Cox and Roman Phifer, too. Super people. Superstars.

In seven seasons with the Patriots, Vrabel went to four Super Bowls, winning three. He had 44 sacks and 10 interceptions for New England. He had eight playoff sacks and also caught a pair of Super Bowl touchdown passes.

Now the Texans’ defensive coordinator at age 41, Vrabel is considered an extremely hot commodity as potentially one of the next great NFL head coaches.

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