We are in the dead zone of the NFL year folks, that time between the finish of draft and the start of training camp. With the exception of the one day a week that the media has access to organized team activities, there’s not much to go over that hasn’t already been over-analyzed – so with that in mind here is the eighth in a series of historical perspectives at who has previously worn the uniform number of the 2014 additions to the roster of the New England Patriots. Unless noted otherwise all the players listed took part in at least one regular or playoff game in the season listed for the Patriots.
James White is the latest member of the Pats to don the number 28; here is a look at those who have preceded him to wear that jersey over the years during the franchise history of the Patriots.
28 – Running Back James White
– In 52 games at Wisconsin, White ran for 45 touchdowns (third most in school history), 4,015 yards (fourth most in school history), and totaled 5,450 all-purpose yards (fourth most). He set school records by averaging 6.2 yards per carry, and with 670 yards receiving as a running back for the Badgers. The Patriots drafted him in the fourth round, 130th overall, in April’s draft.
2012-13: S Steve Gegory
– The Chargers originally signed Gregory as an undrafted free agent out of Syracuse in 2006. In six seasons in San Diego he played in 85 games with 31 starts, with 197 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions and one touchdown. The Patriots signed him as a free agent in March of 2012, and he ended up replacing Patrick Chung as the starting safety. He was released in February in part because it saved the club about $2.8 million in cap space, and in part because he occasionally took bad angles in the field – and Duron Harmon was starting to look as if he would be better as the starter. In two seasons with the Pats Gregory played in 26 games, with 23 starts. He had 116 tackles (81 solo, 35 assists), three interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Statistically Gregory map appear to be a blip on the screen, but thanks to one play on Thanksgiving Day two years ago, he will forever be remembered fondly as part of the Patriots folklore: Gregory was the player that picked up the Butt Fumble, and ran it in for a touchdown. It was a sensational game for Gregory, as he an interception and two fumble recoveries that day, with the Patriots crushing the Jets 49-19.
2009-10: CB Darius Butler
– Butler was a four-year starter and two-time captain at UConn, and the Pats selected him in the second round, 41st overall, in the 2009 draft. Things looked good his rookie season: he got his first start and first interception in week five, and the following week had a 91-yard pick-six at Tampa Bay. He ended up playing in 14 games with five starts, and finished with 33 tackles, three interceptions, the one touchdown, and eight passes defensed.
Things went downhill rapidly in 2010. In a week two loss to the Jets he was burnt for one touchdown, and was called for pass interference twice on another scoring drive. Bill Belichick benched him, and didn’t even put him on the field in nickel situations. At the end of training camp in 2011 he was waived, and finished his two-year career with the Patriots with 29 games played, eight starts, three interceptions, 14 passes defensed, 58 tackles (54 solo, 4 assists), one fumble recovery, and one touchdown.
Carolina claimed Butler on waivers and he spent one season as a backup with the Panthers before being cut at the end of camp in 2012. After working out for the Raiders and Chiefs, the Colts signed him in September, and he has performed much better with Indy. In two seasons for the Colts he has eight interceptions, 25 passes defensed, and three touchdowns.
2007-08: S Antwain Spann (wore 31 in ’06)
– After two years at junior college, Spann transferred to Louisiana-Lafayette where he played linebacker and defensive back; he had four interceptions and one pick-six his senior year. The Giants signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2005, but Spann was cut at the end of training camp. In the spring of 2006 Spann played for the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe, appearing in six games with three starts. Spann then went back and forth between the Patriots practice squad and 53-man roster three times in 2006, playing in his first NFL game in a 38-13 victory over Cincinnati on October 1. He was on the 53-man roster for ten regular-season games in ’06, seeing action primarily on special teams in eight of those games while being inactive in two others. Spann was also active in all three playoff games, and in the 24-21 wain at San Diego he had a hit on a punt return that led to a fumble recovery and subsequently a field goal for the Patriots.
The Pats cut Spann at the start of training camp in 2007, and re-signed him to the practice squad in September. In late December he was promoted to the 53-man roster and played in the final regular season game against the Giants, but was inactive for all three playoff games. In 2008 he was cut at the end of camp and re-signed to the practice squad; the Pats signed him to the 53-man roster when Rodney Harrison went on IR with a quad injury against Denver in what turned out to be his final NFL game. The Patriots cut Spann for the final time just before the start of camp in 2009 when Patrick Chung signed his contract.
Spann spent brief time in training camps with Buffalo and Denver in ’09, but did not make either team’s final roster. He joined the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League in 2010, but was released just before the start of the season; Spann has not played any professional football since then. He finished his career with the Patriots with 19 games played, and 13 tackles (8 solo).
1998: CB Steve Lofton (wore 38 in ’97)
– Lofton was initially a wide receiver at Texas A&M, switching to defensive back his senior year in 1989. Undrafted, he spent 1990 with Montreal of the Wold League of American Football. From 1991-96 he was a backup defensive back and special teams player with the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals, appearing in 49 games with six starts during that time.
On September 30, 1997 the Pats released CB Scooter McGruder and signed Lofton. He played in four games for the Pats in ’97 and six in ’98 before being released on October 23, when the club signed WR Tony Gaiter. Lofton then re-signed with Carolina at the age of 31 for his final NFL season. He finished his NFL career with 74 games played and 13 starts, with one interception and 54 tackles.
1995-97: RB Curtis Martin
– In 1994 the New England running game was putrid, with Marion Butts the starter and averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. In the first year that Bobby Grier was promoted to director of player personnel during the Bill Parcells era, the Patriots drafted Martin in the third round, 74th overall, in the 1995 draft. Martin had suffered injuries in each of the last two years at Pitt – including an ankle injury that kept him out of all but two games his senior year – and many expected him to be a first-round choice had he stayed in school for one more year. He instead opted to come out, and with those injury doubts he was still available in the third round.
In his rookie season with the Patriots, Martin far exceeded the most optimistic expectations of any fans. He rushed for 1,487 yards and 14 touchdowns, and added another 261 yards on 30 receptions. The rushing yardage and touchdowns were both third best in the NFL, and he rushed for over 100 yards nine times. Martin went to the Pro Bowl, and was named Offensive Rookie of the Year.
After going 6-10 in ’95, the Pats improved to 11-5 in ’96, won the AFC East, and went to the Super Bowl. Martin’s rushing yardage dropped slightly to 1,152 yards, but he had 17 total touchdowns (14 rushing, three receiving). In the 28-3 playoff victory against Pittsburgh, Martin rushed for three touchdowns, including a 78-yard romp that put the Pats up 21-0, and finished with a franchise record franchise record 166 yards on the ground. Martin went to his second Pro Bowl, and then in ,97 rushed for 1,160 yards. The following year Martin was a restricted free agent, and the Jets signed him to an offer sheet that the Pats were unable to match due to poison pill wording that has since been outlawed. Just like that Martin was not only gone, but was now a member of the Jets.
Martin played eight seasons with the rival Jets, rushing for over 1,000 yards every year except his final season. In 2004 he led the league with 1,697 yards rushing, and was named to his fifth Pro Bowl. He finished his NFL career ranked fourth all-time with 14,101 yards rushing, and was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
Despite playing just three years with the Patriots, he still ranks among the top in most rushing categories. He rushed for 3,799 yards (fourth in franchise history), 32 touchdowns (tied with Tony Collins for fifth most), and is tied with Wes Welker for 13th with 37 total touchdowns.
1992-93: CB Dion Lambert
– Lambert was selected in the 4th round, 90th overall, of the 1992 draft out of UCLA. In two seasons with the Patriots he played in 30 games with four starts, 53 tackles, one sack, one interception, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. He played one game with Seattle in 1994, and then was out of the NFL. Lambert returned to his hometown of Los Angeles and became the head football coach at his alma mater, Kennedy High School; he now works as an assistant coach for defensive backs and receivers at Valencia High School in Santa Clarita, California.
1985-89: S Jim Bowman
– A running back for his first year at Central Michigan, Bowman converted to safety for his sophomore year. He set school records that still stand with 16 career interceptions and eight picks in a single season, and became the first Chippewa to be invited to the Blue-Gray and East-West Shrine all-star games as senior. The Patriots took Bowman in the second round of the 1985 draft, 52nd overall. Excluding the three games when replacements played during the 1987 strike, Bowman played in 71 consecutive games for the Patriots.
He was primarily a backup and special teams player, but did get eight starts in ’87. Bowman made headlines during the Patriots playoff run in the ’85 season. In the playoff game against the Raiders, the Patriots were down 20-17 in the second half when they tied the score on a Tony Franklin field goal. On the ensuing kickoff, Mosi Tatupu hit the Oakland kickoff return man and forced a fumble. Bowman recovered the ball (for his second fumble recovery of the game) in the end zone to give the Patriots a lead – and what would be the winning touchdown, as the Pats won 27-20.
Bowman finished his career with the Patriots with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries in 73 regular season games, in addition to the two fumble recoveries and touchdown in the playoffs. Since retiring from the NFL he has worked as a a color commentator on University of Massachusetts television broadcasts, and was inducted into the Central Michigan University Athletics Hall of Fame along with NBA star Dan Majerle in 1998.
1987: DB David Hendley
– Hendley went undrafted out of Southern Connecticut State, and appeared in two of the three replacement games during the ’87 players strike: week three against Cleveland, and week four against Buffalo.
1980: S Bill Currier
– Currier was a three-year starter at South Carolina, and participated in the Blue-Gray All-Star Game in 1976. He was drafted in the 9th round, 232nd overall, in the 1977 draft by the Oilers. After three years with Houston he joined the Patriots for one season, playing in all 16 games in 1980. Currier then played five seasons with the Giants, starting at strong safety for them for four years. He played in 111 NFL games, with 11 interceptions, seven fumble recoveries, and three sacks. After his playing career, Currier returned to Columbia South Carolina and became football coach and athletics director at Ben Lippen School; he was inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010.
1973: S Dave Mason
– Not to be confused with the guitar player with Traffic, this Dave Mason was a wide receiver on the 1971 national championship Nebraska team, with a brief career in the NFL. With prospects as a receiver dim on the stocked Cornhuskers team, he switched to defensive back for his final two years at school. The Vikings took Mason in the 10th round (246th overall) in the 1973 draft, but he did not make their roster out of training camp. He played seven games with one start in ’73 for the Pats, with one fumble recovery. The next year he returned to his native Green Bay, and played in twelve games with the Packers in what would be his final NFL season. After his football days were behind him, Mason put his schooling to good use, working for 25 years as a dentist in Green Bay.
1968-72: S Art McMahon
– McMahon was a defensive captain at North Carolina State, twice being named to the All-ACC team. The Patriots drafted him in the 15th round (385th overall) of the 1968 draft. Injuries derailed his career, missing half of the 1970 season and all of 1971. Over the course of five years with the Patriots, McMahon played in 43 games with seven starts – and missed 27 games with various ailments. He had three interceptions and two fumble recoveries
1964: PR Dave Cloutier
– Cloutier was a local New England product, growing up in Maine and attending the University of Maine. He was selected in the 18th round (242nd overall) of the 1962 draft by the Cowboys, and also spent some time with Buffalo in their training camp before signing on with the Patriots. In ’62 and ’63 Cloutier played for the Portland Sea Hawks of the Atlantic Coast Football League.
With the Patriots, Cloutier appeared in twelve games, and was third in the AFL in ’64 with twenty punt returns. He averaged 6.8 yards per punt return, and also had one kickoff return for 46 yards in his only season with the Pats.
I am most likely the only person that follows the Patriots who thought of it, but when White’s name was announced in the 4th round, the first person I thought of was this really cool sax player and his band from New York scene from the late seventies – early eighties.
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