A historical look at the uniform numbers for the new Patriots: #31, safety Shamiel Gary

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 eleventh 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.

Shamiel Gary is the latest members of the Pats to don the number 31; here is a look at those who have preceded them to wear that jersey over the years during the franchise history of the Patriots. A gold star goes to anybody that recognizes any of the four players that wore number 31 for the Boston Patriots.


31 – Safety Shamiel Gary

– A first team freshman All-American at the University of Wyoming, Gary had nine games with double-digit tackles in two seasons, and a total of 192 tackles and 11 passes defensed. He then transferred to Oklahoma State to be closer to his ill grandmother, and had to redshirt for one season to fulfill NCAA transfer guidelines. He recorded 119 tackles as a two-year starter at strong safety in Stillwater, and led the team his senior year with nine passes broken up.


2012-13: CB Aqib Talib

– Talib attended the University of Kansas, where he was an All-American with 13 interceptions in 34 games, and MVP of the Orange Bowl. Tampa Bay selected him with their first round pick in 2008 draft, 20th overall. At the rookie symposium he got into a fistfight with fellow Buccaneer teammate Cory Boyd, and the following off-season he was arrested for battery on a cab driver. Talib missed the last four games of 2010 when he went on injured reserve with a hip injury, and in the off-season he was arrested in Texas arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon when he was accused of shooting at his sister’s girlfriend; a year later those charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence. In 2011 he again went on IR, this time missing the final three games with a hamstring injury. Four games into the 2012 season he was suspended by the NFL for four games for performance enhancing drugs. He wasn’t playing as well as he had in the past, and had become the whipping boy for the local media as the Bucs lost three in a row. Talib was due to become a free agent the next year and it was apparent the team was not interested in re-signing him with all his baggage, so they traded him to the Patriots along with a seventh round pick in exchange for New England’s fourth round pick.

After serving the suspension, Talib joined the Patriots in week 11. In his first game as a Patriot, Talib had a 59-yard pick-six off Andrew Luck as the Pats routed the Colts, 59-24. His presence solidified the secondary, representing an upgrade over Sterling Moore at corner, while at the same time allowing Devin McCourty to become a full-time safety; the Patriots won six of the final seven regular season games after Talib was on the roster. However, he once again finished the season on the sideline: this time leaving in the first quarter of the AFC championship loss to Baltimore with a thigh injury.

After not generating much interest as a free agent, Talib re-signed with the Patriots for one year. In the second game of the season Talib had a forced fumble and then two fourth quarter interceptions, as the Patriots defeated the Jets by three. After doing a magnificent job of shutting down Jimmy Graham, Talib again was injured, and missed the next three games. In his first game back he seemed to completely lose his composure while covering Steve Smith, in a loss to the Panthers. Talib finished the season with four picks and 13 passes defensed, was on the field for 73% of New England’s defensive snaps, and was named to the Pro Bowl. However, in the playoffs he once again landed on the sideline, leaving early with a knee (or was it hip?) injury. In the off-season Talib signed a six-year, $57 million contract with Denver – which, because of the numbers, is in reality a three-year deal for $27 million.

In his 1½ years in New England, Talib played in 19 regular season games, with five picks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and one touchdown; he also played in two full playofff games and portions of two others. He currently has 23 interceptions and four touchdowns in his NFL career.


2011: S Sergio Brown (wore 38 in 2010)

– Brown went to Notre Dame, where he primarily played on special teams for Charlie Weis; he did not become a starter there until midway through his junior season. The Patriots signed him as an undrafted free agent on April 29, 2010 after liking what they saw with his special teams play. He was released at the end of training camp and signed to the practice squad; the Pats promoted him to the 53-man roster in late October, and he appeared in every game from week seven on.

In 2011 the Patriots released both of their starting safeties from the previous season (James Sanders and Brandon Meriwether) during training camp, leaving a huge void at the position. He played in all but one game in 2011, with three starts, but was being counted on to do more than he was really capable of. Brown made 30 tackles plus nine special teams tackles, had one interception and one pass deflection. Brown was released during the final round of camp cuts in 2012, and claimed off waivers by the Colts the next day. He played in all 16 games for Indy, mostly on special teams, and is still on their roster now.


2007-10: S Brandon Meriweather

– While at the University of Miami, Meriweather made news on and off the field. In uniform he was an All-American and twice a semi-finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, and known for his big hits. Off the field he made headlines when he was involved in a shooting incident (with no charges filed, due to it being in self defense), and was suspended when he was caught on camera stomping on an opposing player in a brawl in a game against Florida International. The Patriots chose him in the first round, 24th overall, in the 2007 draft.

In four seasons he did not miss a game with the Patriots, playing in all 69 regular and post season games, with 43 starts. Meriweather got his first start in 2008 after Rodney Harrison was injured, and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2009 and 2010. However, some felt that he was more interested in making a big hit than a sure tackle, and he free-lanced a bit too much rather than sticking to his assignment, and could get burnt on occasion by taking poor angles. During the off-season he was involved in another shooting incident, with two people injured, but again no charges were filed. In what was considered to be a surprise by some, he was released during the final round of cuts at the end of training camp in 2011. Meriwaether finished his four-year career in New England with twelve interceptions, five forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one touchdown, and 181 total tackles (80 solo).

A day after he was cut by the Pats, Meriweather signed with the Bears, and spent one season with Chicago. He then signed with Washington, but only played in one game in 2012 due to a knee injury. Last year he started twelve games, and the club re-signed him to a one-year, one million deal in March.


2006: S Antwain Spann (wore 28 in ’07-08)

– 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).


2005: RB Amos Zereoue

– Born on the Ivory Coast and raised on Long Island, ‘Famous Amos’ was a walk-on at West Virginia. The first time he got a carry he went 69 yards for a touchdown, and he went on to start for three years. Zeroue became the Mountaineers’ career rushing leader with 4,086 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry while rushing for 40 touchdowns, and was selected by Pittsburgh in the third round, 95th overall, in the 1999 draft. He was a backup behind Jerome Bettis; at 5′ 8″ he was seen as a third down back. His best season was in 2002 when his playing time went up when Bettis was hurt, and Zeroue rushed for 762 yards and four touchdowns. In the 2001 post-season, he scored a touchdown for Pittsburgh against the Pats in the conference championship game.

Zeroue spent one season in Oakland before the Pats signed him as a free agent at the end of September. He was on the roster for four games in the month of October, appearing in three games and inactive for one. His only touches came when he and Patrick Pass shared running back duties in week six, when Corey Dillon was hurt; Zeroue had seven rushes for 14 yards, and one reception for five yards. After a bye week he was questionable with a thigh injury for the next game, against Buffalo, and was released the day after that game. In his NFL career Zeroue rushed for 2,137 yards and ten touchdowns, a 3.9 yard average over 84 games. He had 137 receptions for 1,111 yards and had a total of eleven touchdowns. His younger brother Maurice is now also a running back at West Virginia.


2003: FB Larry Centers

– After graduating from division 1-AA Stephen Austin, Centers was chosen in the fifth round, 115th overall, in the 1990 draft by Phoenix. He spent nine seasons with the Cardinals, to with Washington and two with Buffalo before the Patriots signed him as a free agent on July 30, 2003. As we have seen many times, Bill Belichick likes to acquire players that have performed well against the Pats, and Centers was no exception: in 2002 he caught 11 passes for 98 yards, and added 17 yards on two rushes in against the Patriots. Unfortunately he was 35 years old at that point, and he hurt his knee badly in a game against the Giants. Centers was released after six games with an injury settlement, then re-signed heading into week 15. He appeared in all three playoff games, and had a nice 28-yard reception in the second half of the conference championship game against the Colts that set up an Adam Vinatieri field goal.

After earning his only Super Bowl ring that year, Centers retired. At the time He was ranked third among active players in career receptions with 827, behind only Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. His 6,797 career receiving yards was at that time the most ever in the NFL by a running back, and in 1995 he became the first person in the history of the Cardinals franchise to catch more than 100 passes in a single season. Centers was named to three Pro Bowls and in 1996 he was an All Pro; in addition to his capabilities as a receiver, he was an excellent blocking back as well.


2001-02: CB Ben Kelly

– Kelly was a third round pick, 84th overall, out of Colorado by the Miami Dolphins in the 2000 draft. He spent nearly all of 2000 on injured reserve, and then in the off-season he was arrested for DUI. After appearing in just two games while being inactive four times in 2001, he showed up 20 minutes late for a team meeting and Miami released him the next day. The Pats claimed him off waivers on November 2, making room for him by placing Adrian Klemm on injured reserve. Kelly was brought in to return kicks, as Curtis Jackson had been placed on IR and Bill Belichcick wanted avoid having to us Kevin Faulk in that role. Kelly did return seven kicks in two games, but he also ended up going on IR, with a foot injury. A day after he was acquitted of the DUI charge, the Patriots tendered Kelly, and re-signed the restricted free agent shortly thereafter. However, he struggled to grasp New England’s defensive playbook, and he was released on August 1. The Broncos signed Kelly, but he was cut at the end of training camp. He finished his NFL career with thirteen games played (with nine of those being with the Patriots); he spent more time on IR (16 games) and almost as much as a game day inactive (10 games) as he did on the field.


1999-2000: CB Kato Serwanga

– Serwanga was born in Uganda, and moved to Sacramento at the age of four when his family fled from tyrant Idi Amin. He and his football-playing twin brother went to Sacramento State and then to the University of the Pacific. When that school dropped their football program Kato transferred to Cal and Wasswa went to UCLA, resulting in the twins competing against each other in the Pac-10. Neither was drafted, but both went on to play in the NFL.

The Patriots signed Serwanga as a free agent immediately following the 1998 draft. He was waived at the end of camp, and signed to the practice squad the next day. He was promoted to the 53-man roster in December, but was inactive for the final four games of the ’98 season. The next year he appeared in all 16 games – with three starts after Ty Law broke his hand – and had three interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, one sack and 37 tackles. In 2000 Serwanga played in fifteen games, with 20 tackles, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and two sacks. The next year the Pats re-signed him as an exclusive rights free agent in large part based on his superior special teams play, but he was released at the end of training camp. Washington signed him a month later and he played 11 games for them, then spent two years with the Giants. In 2004 Serwanga signed with the Colts, but was released at the nd of camp. Overall he played in 58 NFL games, with 31 of those as a member of the Patriots.


1995-97: CB Jimmy Hitchcock (wore 37 in 2002)

– After attending the University of North Carolina, the Patriots selected Hitchcock in the third round, 88th overall, in the 1995 draft – the same draft where the Pats picked up Ty Law, Ted Johnson and Curtis Martin. He was projected to be taken as early as the first round by some, but injury concerns due to the fact that he had no anterior cruciate ligaments (!) caused him to slide to the third round.

Hitchcock played in eight games his rookie season, and started five of the 13 games he appeared in the following year. In 1997 he became a full-time starter at right corner, and set a club record with a 100-yard interception return off Dan Marino for a touchdown. The next year, Pete Carroll drafted Tebucky Jones and traded Hitchcock away to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for a 1999 third round pick, which turned out to be safety Tony George. Hitchcock picked off seven passes in his first season with Minnesota, leading the NFL with three interception returns for touchdowns, and set a club record with 30 passes defensed – apparently recovering from being thrown under the bus by Cris Carter. He spent two seasons with the Vikings and two with Carolina before returning to New England for his final year of pro football. Hitchcock was on the roster from week 3 to 11, but appeared in only one game; he was released November 20. He played 37 games with the Patriots with 20 starts, four interceptions and one touchdown. In his NFL career he played in 101 games with 61 starts, with 19 interceptions and five touchdowns.

In 2008 Hitchcock was charged with robbery and assault. His google profile says that he is a part owner of a liquor distributor and also an independent rep for Fortune High-Tech Marketing; the latter was shut down by the FTC in 2013 for being a pyramid scheme. There is also a person in his home state that has the same name and is the same age that was charged by the FBI with mortgage fraud, but I have not been able to verify if that is the same Jimmy Hitchcock who played for the Patriots.


1982-91: S Fred Marion

– Marion had ten interceptions with the University of Miami, just as the Hurricanes were beginning to make impressive strides from just being a mediocre team, to a national powerhouse under Howard Schnellenberger. The Patriots selected him in the fifth round, 112th overall in the 1982 draft, and he turned out to be arguably the best fifth round draft choice in franchise history.

His first two seasons were relatively uneventful, playing nickel and on special teams. Six weeks into the 1984 season Marion got his first start, and he remained in the starting lineup for the next seven and a half years. The next season he had seven picks, led the NFL with 189 yards on interception returns, was named to the Pro Bowl and was a second-team All Pro. Marion was one of the defensive leaders on that team: he had an interception and two passes defensed in the wildcard victory over the Jets, an interception, a fumble recovery, two pass deflections and seven tackles the next week against the Raiders, and had a clutch interception at the four yard line in the Squish the Fish game that won the AFC championship and sent the Patriots to their first Super Bowl.

Marion played 144 regular season games, and five playoff games in his NFL career, all of which was with New England. His 29 interceptions is tied for third most in the club’s history; he is a member of the team’s All-80s team, the 35th Anniversary Team, and the 50th Anniversary Team. In 2012 he was a finalist for the Patriots Hall of Fame, and hopefully some day the veteran’s committee will see fit to enshrine him in the HoF. Since his playing days ended he has put his business management degree to good use, at one time owning a restaurant, and now working as a a general sales manager at a Toyota dealership in Sanford, Florida.


1987: CB Jon Sawyer

– A Replacement Player, Sawyer appeared in the October 4th loss to Cleveland and the October 14th victory against Buffalo. He went to the University of Cincinnati, intercepted three passes his junior and senior seasons, and was the recipient of the Brig Owens Award in 1985 as the Bearcats’ Most Outstanding Back. About the only thing I could find from his playing days with the Bearcats was a photo of him being beaten by an Auburn receiver in a 52-7 loss to the Tigers in 1986.


1975: RB Leon McQuay

– The Giants selected McQuay out of the University of Tampa – two seasons before the Spartans ended their football program – with the 119th overall pick in the fifth round of the 1973 draft. McQuay was the first African-American athlete to receive a football scholarship at the University of Tampa, which was still segregated at that time. ‘X-Ray’ McQay rushed for 3,039 yards and scored 37 touchdowns, and was a two time small college All-American in three seasons at UT. As a junior he rushed for 1,362 yards and scored 22 touchdowns; McQuay, Freddie Solomon and John Matuszak led the Spartans to a 10-2 record and a victory over Jack Lambert and Nick Saban in the Tangerine Bowl. Enticed by cash and thinking he had nothing left to prove as a college player, McQuay then skipped his senior year to play in the Canadian Football League, where he averaged 7.1 yard per carry and went to the Grey Cup with the Toronto Argonauts.

McQuay spent three years in the CFL before joining the Giants. Thought to be too small at 5’9″ to be an every down player, he was their kick returner, averaging 27.6 yards on 25 returns, and added another 299 yards from scrimmage as their third down back. On August 21, 1975, the Patriots traded their sixth round 1976 draft pick to the Giants for McQuay. He played in 13 games for the Pats, returning 15 kicks, with limited time at running back (74 yards from scrimmage). With three fumbles he landed in Chuck Fairbanks’ doghouse though, and the following spring McQuay was traded to Oakland for the Raiders’ 10th round draft choice in 1977.

McQuay played four games for the Saints in ’76, then returned to Toronto and the CFL the next year. He tried making a comeback with his hometown Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL in 1982, but was cut during training camp. In 1983 McQuay was inducted into the University of Tampa Athletic Hall of Fame. He then became a licensed auto mechanic and an ordained minister, but died of a heart attack in 1995 at the age of 45. His grandson, Leon McQuay III, is a safety at Southern Cal.

For much more on his life, check out The Saga of Leon McQuay and Leon McQuay III has a legacy to live up to.


1972-74: RB Josh Ashton

– In two seasons at Tulsa, Ashton rushed for 1,536 yards and 11 touchdowns, and added another 367 yards and four touchdowns on 29 receptions. He led the Golden Hurricanes in rushing and scoring both years, in kickoff returns (444 yards, 24.7 average) in 1969, and had five 100-yard rushing games; at the time his 205-yard game against North Texas was the second most in school history.

The Patriots selected him in the 9th round (209th overall) of the 1971 draft – their fifth pick that year due to trades – but signed with the BC Lions of the CFL when he did not agree to contract terms with the (then) notoriously tight Pats.

After spending six months in the Army and feeling a bit homesick, Ashton signed with the Patriots for the 1972 season. His rookie season he started at fullback, and led the team in rushing with 546 yards. In a week three 24-23 upset over NFC champions Washington, Ashton ran for 108 yards and a touchdown that put the Pats up 14-7 in the first half, then caught a 24 yard fourth quarter pass from Jim Plunkett for the winning score.

The following year the Pats drafted Sam Cunningham, and added Mack Herron; by 1974 his carries plummeted to just 26 attempts. That game against Washington turned out to be the only 100-yard game of Ashton’s NFL career. The Patriots traded him to New Orleans on July 31, 1975, for the Saints’ seventh round choice in the 1976 draft. He did not survive training camp cuts, and that year he finished his NFL career playing in just two late season games for the Rams. Ashton then returned to his native Houston area, where he died in 1993 at the age of 44. He ranks 29th all-time in club history with 950 yards rushing and is 49th with 309 kickoff return yards.


1968: WR Bill Murphy

– Murphy went to Cornell, where he set Ivy League single-season records with 50 receptions for 853 yards and nine touchdowns. He was Cornell’s MVP in 1967, and his 163 yards receiving against Harvard was a school record that stood for 25 years. Murphy played the final six games of the 1968 season for the Patriots, starting five times. He ended up with 18 receptions for 268 yards, averaging 14.9 yards per reception, with no touchdowns.

His business career has been far more sensational than his pro football career though. Murphy put his Ivy League education to good use, specializing in commodities futures at Merrill Lynch. After working at a couple other Wall Street firms, Murphy then opened up his own brokerage. In 1998 he co-founded the Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee, where he is the chairman. That organization was organized to expose, oppose, and litigate against collusion to control the price and supply of gold and related financial instruments.


1966-67: DB/KR Vic Purvis

– Purvis was a star quarterback at Mississipi Southern College (now known as the University of Southern Mississippi) in the early sixties. He accounted for an astounding 1,079 yards of offense in a two-game span his senior year, rushing for over 200 yards and also passing for more than 300 yards in each of those games. Purvis was a two-time Academic All-American, and an honorable All-American in 1965. His 238 yards rushing on September 25, 1965 was a school record that stood for 17 years, and he rushed for over 100 yards five times with the Golden Eagles; for a while it appeared that he might become the first quarterback to ever win the NCAA division one rushing title.

Because he was more of a rusher (374 carries) than a passer (317 attempts) in college, pro teams did not look at him as a potential starting quarterback. The Patriots signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent in 1966 and converted him to defensive back and kick returner. He played in every game his rookie season, but two games into the 1967 season he suffered a shoulder injury that would ultimately end his pro football career. Purvis’ final stat line was 16 games played, with an average of 23.1 yards on eight kick returns, and an average of 8.6 yards on five punt returns.

After his playing days ended Purvis returned to Mississippi, where he founded Purvis Sales & Marketing; he is now at Pine Belt Promos, a company he has owned since 2005. In addition, since 1974 he has worked as the color commentator on Southern Miss’ football games, one of the longest running stints in all sports. Purvis was elected to the Southern Mississippi Athletic Hall of Fame in 1972, and to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.


1963: FB Harry Crump

Who’s Harry Crump? Harry “The Thump” Crump was a star local athlete, which was perfect for the then-new Boston Patriots: he was born in Framingham, and went to Westborough High School and Boston College. In 1962 he led the Eagles to an 8-2 record, rushing for 641 yards at an average of 5.2 yards per carry.

Crump played all sixteen of the Patriots’ games in 1963, mostly blocking for Larry Garron and getting the ball in short distance and goal line situations, in what would turn out to be his only season of pro football. In the regular season he tallied 120 yards rushing, but did score five touchdowns for the Patriots; in the championship game against San Diego he had 46 yards from scrimmage, third most that day for the Pats.


1960-61: CB/P Clyde Washington

– Washington went to Purdue, where he was part of a five-player running back by committee, with each player getting between 50-65 carries. The Browns chose him in the tenth round, 116th overall of the 1960 draft, but he ended up signing with the Patriots as a free agent for the inaugural American Football League season. He was the team’s starting left cornerback, and appeared in all but one game in his two seasons with the Pats. Washington had seven interceptions with the Patriots, and also handled the punting duties in 1960. From 1963-65 he played with the Jets, and finished his pro football career with nine interceptions in 63 games played, plus three rushes for ten yards and 17 punts.

The following year Washington became assistant director of player personnel, a position he would hold through the 1969 season. He died of a brain tumor on December 29, 1974, in his hometown of Carlisle, Pennsylvania ; he was only 36 years old.





#10 – QB Jimmy Garoppolo

#14 – KR/WR Reggie Dunn

#16 – WR Reese Wiggins

#19 – WR Brandon LaFell

#21 – CB Jemea Thomas

#23 – S Patrick Chung

#24 – CB Darrelle Revis

#28 – RB James White

#29 – RB Roy Finch and CB Malcolm Butler

#35 – RB Jonas Gray and CB Daxton Swanson




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