2022 Pro Football Hall of Fame: How Richard Seymour's versatility, values made him an underrated ...

ByMike Reiss ESPN logo
Wednesday, July 27, 2022

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked to pick one play that stood out to him from Richard Seymour's Pro Football Hall of Fame career, it perfectly illustrated what made Seymour one of the NFL's most underrated defensive linemen.

It wasn't a sack, tackle or pass deflection. Seymour had plenty of those as a disruptive force on the Patriots' first three Super Bowl championship teams (2001, 2003, 2004).

Instead, Belichick highlighted a crushing block by a then-rookie Seymour, clearing the path for an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown in a victory against the Cleveland Browns.

"You don't see a lot of defensive tackles on the punt return unit," Belichick said of the play where Seymour pancaked punter Chris Gardocki, preventing him from getting to return man Troy Brown. "So those plays kind of stood out for me because they are just a little more unusual."

From the day Seymour arrived in New England as the No. 6 overall draft choice out of Georgia in 2001, he was unusual. Belichick was in his 27th season in the NFL at that point and said Seymour was unlike any player he had coached.

"With the Giants [in the 1980s], we had some good defensive linemen -- [like] Leonard Marshall. ... When I was in Denver [1978], we had [Lyle] Alzado.

"[Richard] was kind of more like the guys we had in Baltimore [1975] -- John Dutton, Mike Barnes; a combination of Barnes, [Joe] Ehrmann and Dutton all rolled into one, between length, explosiveness ... quickness.

"Those guys were really, really good players, but there just haven't been many like [Seymour]. Obviously, you talk about Hall of Fame players, so it's not a long list of those guys. But I just never really had anybody like that."

Seymour will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of an eight-person class on Aug. 6 (noon ET, ESPN)

'Whatever it took'

WHAT MADE SEYMOUR unique was his knack for playing any position. He was a nose tackle in the 3-4 alignment as a rookie before moving to end. Belichick viewed him as a most natural 5-technique (square up on the offensive tackle) and 3-technique (outside shade on the guard), but quickly came to appreciate his ability to fit wherever the team needed him.

That explains, in part, why Seymour's statistics (164 games, 498 tackles, 57.5 sacks) never sizzled like other Hall of Famers. He excelled at helping others make plays, controlling gaps and tying up blockers in front of him so linebackers could pursue freely.

The combination of excellence, versatility and selflessness allowed Belichick to morph his scheme as he saw fit, an underrated factor that helped spark a defense that was the backbone of those early championship years.

"The three Super Bowls we won together: Against the Rams, we played a front called 'tilt', which is like a four-man line. Against the Panthers, we played base 3-4. Against the Eagles, we played a front called 'Dolphin'. Those are three completely different fronts, and he's a big reason why we could do that," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said of Seymour.

"We could put Richard anywhere and be successful with it. When you have that type of talent and domination from that position, that's how you win championships."

The rings, more than stats or seven Pro Bowl berths, fueled Seymour.

"Whatever it took, at any cost. So if they needed me to play noseguard, to defensive end or defensive tackle, I was willing to do that," Seymour said. "We had a saying, it wasn't about the Pro Bowl, or the All-Pro; we just wanted to hoist that trophy."

That was Seymour's approach on the field, which teammates say also reflected the man off it.

"Richard was a mature man when he came in. His leadership skills, the way he conducted himself, his mentality ..." outside linebacker Willie McGinest said. "The organization did a good job bringing in character guys -- we were about 'team' over 'individualism' -- and Richard checked all the boxes. There was just something about him.

"His upbringing, and where he came from, people like that connect right away; you can feel each other and vibe. As soon as we started talking, he's been my brother ever since. Raised right, balanced life, the football stuff was secondary compared to who he was."

Family man

SEYMOUR SAID ONE of the things he appreciates most about his football career is how it has allowed him and his wife, Tanya, to devote time in retirement to their four children -- RJ (20), Kayla (19), Kennedy (17) and London (15).

It is a theme he hopes to relay during his Hall of Fame induction speech, although capturing the essence of that in the allotted six minutes will be challenging.

"That is authentic to who I am as a person, and what makes me tick. My greatest responsibility has always been right here at home," he said in a phone interview from the Atlanta area.

"I'm a firm believer that your riches are in your family and that's why I'm a blessed man now, because of my kids and wife. They were on this journey with me."

Seymour, 42, has dabbled in business and professional poker since his retirement following the 2012 season but is happiest driving the kids to school and their various activities, and being there for them as a sounding board.

The family enjoys game night; Monopoly and Taboo are favorites and Seymour's famous competitive streak often shows.

"That's the ultimate showdown in our house. When we put Monopoly out, it's go time," said Kayla, who attends Spellman College in Atlanta. "Dad amps the whole thing up; you'll hear a lot of yelling when people are going bankrupt and have to sell their properties. It turns out to be a big show."

Seymour's kids say his favorite property is Marvin Gardens, the final of the three yellows before the "go to jail" corner. He's also known to prefer the set of three red properties that precede yellow.

It's a fitting connection to how many viewed him during his playing days. Seymour might not have had the pizazz of the highest-priced properties -- Park Place and Boardwalk -- but building houses in the lower-frills red and yellow neighborhood can produce winning results, too.

"He's extremely competitive. He's never going to let anyone win," said RJ, who attends the University of Kentucky and is studying strategic communications. "We could literally play to the early hours in the morning -- start at 8 and finish at 3. We don't stop."

'There's nobody like Richard Seymour'

TRUE TO HIS roots, Seymour has chosen his high school principal, Titus Duren, to be his Hall of Fame presenter.

Seymour will become the 10th Patriot inducted and second from the early 2000s championship teams, joining defensive back Ty Law. The Patriots traded Seymour to the Raiders in 2009, where he played his final four seasons. He said playing under late owner Al Davis was an honor, but Seymour is mostly identified as a Patriot.

His induction is viewed as overdue by many of his teammates, with Bruschi saying, "I truly believe he was one of the best defensive linemen of our era."

In a letter to the Hall of Fame committee, Belichick said Seymour and former Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork are the two greatest defensive linemen he's coached, adding of Seymour: "It is extremely uncommon to see a player of his size, at any position, be capable of doing so many things well."

"What an honor it was to coach him," Belichick said. "I just can't put into words what it's like to have a player and person like Richard Seymour on your team. All the things he brought to the team -- not just his playing ability -- but preparation, his values, his honesty, trust, unselfishness.

"When you go through personnel evaluations for drafts, a lot of times you might say 'this guy is sort of like that guy.' Or 'that guy is sort of like this guy.' There's nobody like Richard Seymour. They just don't come along. They are a generational-type player -- athletically and talent-wise, and then the bigger part is what Richard brought to this organization as a person."

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