Tom Brady. Bill Belichick. Ty Law. Willie McGinist. Richard Seymour. Rob Gronkowski. Julian Edelman. Dont’a Hightower.
Most people easily recognize those names and the impact they had on the Patriots Super Bowl success.
But what would JR Redmond? Otis Smith? Shane Vereen? Malcolm Butler? Jason McCourty? Danny Amendola? Ryan Allen? Some of these names are recognizable because of their recency, but the passage of time will likely erase them from the common lexicon of Boston sports lore. Nonetheless, these unacclaimed heroes played an integral role in the Patriots six Super Bowl victories.
The Patriots defeated the Greatest Show On Turf with a historic defensive performance. However, they needed a field goal to win it at the end of regulation. Most remember that as the start of Tom Brady’s reign. What most people forget is how important JR Redmond was on that drive. The precursor to future heroic running backs, Redmond caught three straight passes for 24 yards to kick start the team’s game-winning drive. They were the only three passes Redmond would catch all game, but their impact was undeniable. Without that final drive, the game could have gone to overtime and the Patriots dynasty may never have been started. Redmond helped give it the spark it needed.
An NFL journeyman, Smith experienced his best NFL season with the Patriots in 2001. He finished the year with five interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns. Smith didn’t let the bright lights slow him down. The Patriots held a seven-point lead late in the third quarter, with St Louis driving down. Smith picked off Warner on a third and five, returning it 30 yards into New England territory. This interception set the Patriots up for a score, with Adam Vinatieri giving the Patriots a 10 point lead just a few minutes later. Smith’s pick stalled what could have been a game-altering drive.
Ryan Allen/Matthew Slater
Yes, the idea of a punter and special teams whiz being considered unsung heroes in the Patriots Super Bowl history may seem a little absurd. But Allen and Slater’s performances in Super Bowl 53 was nothing short of remarkable. Ryan punted the ball five times against the Rams, three of which landed inside the 20-yard line. Not only did they land at the 20, but they were downed at the two, six, and seven-yard lines, pinning Los Angeles offense deep in their own territory. On his worst punt of the night, Allen was helped by Matthew Slater who downed the returner at the Rams 23 yard line. Effective punting is an extremely under-appreciated aspect of a football game and is especially important when facing a potent offense. Forcing the Rams to start with poor field position helped the Patriots defense keep points off of the board in a game where no points could be spared.
The Patriots needed all hands on deck offensively when they played the vaunted Seahawks in Super Bowl 49. One of the most important weapons Brady had was running back Shane Vereen. The new age Kevin Faulk and the precursor to James White, Vereen was a versatile weapon for the Patriots. Against the Seahawks, he caught 11 passes on 12 targets for 64 yards. Not only that, but five of his catches went for first downs. Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski get most of the credit for the Patriots success in that Super Bowl, but Vereen helped keep drives alive.
Speaking of James White…
White is a household name today because he is still an integral part of the Patriots offense. But his impact on Super Bowl 51 is still not appreciated nearly enough. White set a Super Bowl record with 14 receptions on 16 targets. He finished with 110 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown, along with 29 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. He also set a Super Bowl record for most points scored with his three touchdowns and one two-point conversion. White was arguably as deserving of the Super Bowl MVP for that game as Tom Brady was. He helped spark the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history with his talent and his incredible toughness. Without him, Brady and Belichick don’t have ring number five.
Another member of the Patriots second dynasty, Amendola was a playoff machine. He helped spark two Patriots Super Bowl victories. Against the Seahawks in Super Bowl 49, Amendola finished with five catches on seven targets for 48 yards and a touchdown. Two years later he helped contribute to the Patriots epic comeback over Atlanta. In that game, he had eight catches on eleven targets for 78 yards and a touchdown. He also had a two-point conversion to tie the game at 28. Amendola’s Super Bowl legacy would have been cemented even further had an Eagles narrow victory not muted his eight catch, 152-yard performance in Super Bowl 52. Amendola played a crucial role in each Super Bowl as a reliable weapon whose solid repertoire with Brady stimulated the offense.
McCourty may have only been a part of one Patriots Super Bowl (to date), but his impact was definitely felt. Early in the game, the Rams ran a route combination that had Brandin Cooks run a deep post to the right while everyone else flowed underneath to the left. Heavy quarterback pressure prevented Jared Goff from making the throw. The Patriots noticed and adjusted, alerting McCourty to take Cooks’ post route from the backside if they ran that play again. The Rams tried the same play in the fourth quarter, with Cooks ending up wide open in the end zone. McCourty covered nearly 20 yards of space (from where he was to where Cooks was when the ball was released) to knock the ball out of Cooks’ hands and prevent a Los Angeles touchdown. That play may have been the most important play in the entire game. On top of that, McCourty finished the game with the highest pass coverage rating.
Last but not least is the man who will never have to buy a beer in Boston ever again. Butler made arguably the greatest Super Bowl play of all time in 2014 when he intercepted Russell Wilson on the goal line with just over 30 seconds left to go in Super Bowl 49. After a wild offensive sequence, Seattle was set up inside the five-yard line on second down. A quick throw to the right would be their downfall as Butler jumped the route and sealed the victory for New England. Had Butler not made that play, Seattle very likely would have scored, delivering the Patriots their third straight Super Bowl loss. Instead, the undrafted rookie who had come into the game in the second half to replace Kyle Arrington made the play of his life.
Like most of the players on this list, Butler didn’t enter the Super Bowl with anyone having high expectations of him. However, he did what was needed when called upon and made monumental contributions to the Patriots dynasty. The story of the Patriots six Super Bowls is certainly about Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. However, the story is also about these unsung heroes. Their names made fade into history, but their legacies are still felt when the wind blows and flutters the five (soon to be six) banners hanging high above Gillette Stadium.