A historical look at the uniform numbers for the new Patriots: #36, Stephen Houston
We are in the dead zone of the NFL year folks, that time between the end of mini-camp and the start of training camp. There’s not much to go over that hasn’t already been over-analyzed – so with that in mind here is the twelfth in a series of historical perspectives on 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.
Stephen Houston is the latest members of the Pats to don the number 36; here is a look at those who have preceded them to wear that jersey over the years during the franchise history of the Patriots. For most fans, you are going to first think of a pair of safeties when you see a player in this jersey: Lawyer Milloy and James Sanders.
36 – Safety Stephen Houston
– Last year at the University of Indiana, Houston averaged 6.7 yards per carry, rushing for 753 yards and five touchdowns. The 6′ 0″ 225-pound back played for three years in Bloomington, and ranks in the top ten in several Hoosier all-time career rushing categories: he is fourth with 25 rushing touchdown, sixth with 29 total touchdowns, ninth with 2,304 rushing yards, and ninth with nine 100-yard rushing games. Houston also caught 65 passes for 658 yards and four touchdowns, and last season returned 15 kickoffs for 296 yards. At the end of the year he received the 2013 Indiana Howard Brown “Dedication to IU Football” Award; that type of characteristic is something that Bill Belichick and his staff love to see from their players.
In May, Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald wrote that Houston was at the head of Patriots’ undrafted class, and that he “seems to possess the traits that could make him the latest undrafted player to impact the Patriots”. At his Pro Day he posted a 40-inch vertical leap, an 11-foot-broad jump, bench pressed 225 pounds 24 times, ran a 4.52 forty, a 4.23 shuttle, and a 7.07 second 3-cone drill.
2013: S Kanorris Davis
(still on roster, also assigned no. 36)
– Davis was a linebacker at Troy
State University, who began to make the switch to safety during his training for his pro Day prior to the 2013 draft. Coming out of the Sun Belt Conference, it was not a surprise that he went undrafted. However, Davis was a bit surprised that the Patriots, a team that had previously not spoken with him, were the club that offered him a contract. The Pats told Davis that they loved his special teams abilities, and told him that he could make a living on special teams.
After being released as part of the final cuts at the end of training camp, the Patriots immediately re-signed Davis to the practice squad. Last season he flip-flopped between the 53-man roster and the practice squad, each time either taking Marquice Cole’s spot, or being replaced by Cole. Davis played in weeks four (at Atlanta) and five (at Cincinnati), before permanently replacing Cole at the end of the season. Davis later returned and played in the week 17 game against Buffalo, as well as the two playoff games; he had two tackles in the 43-22 victory over the Colts. He has adopted Matthew Slater as his mentor, and performed very well on special teams for the Patriots as the gunner in punt coverage. While many fans may overlook him, I am one who is expecting him to be on the New England roster right from the start of the regular season.
2011: FB Lousaka Polite
– Lousaka grew up in Pittsburgh, and then went to college locally. He was the first three-time football captain in the history of the University of Pittsburgh, gaining 1,140 yards from scrimmage while (with some help from Larry Fitzgerald) helping transform the Panthers from a two-win team to a nine-win club. Bill Parcells signed him to the Cowboys as an undrafted rookie in 2004, and he played in 27 games for the Cowboys over three seasons. After one year with the Bears where he played strictly on special teams, Polite reunited with Parcells in Miami. He started 24 games over the next three seasons for the Dolphins, primarily as the lead blocker for Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Polite was also a very effective short yardage back during that time, converting on 41 out of 43 third-and-one or fourth-and-one attempts from 2008-10.
The Dolphins released Polite at the end of camp in 2011, and he was out of football until the Patriots signed him on December 27. He played in week 17 as well as the three playoff games for the Pats that season, with one carry for three yards. The Patriots released him the following March, signing fullbacks Tony Fiammetta and Spencer Larsen in his place a few days later. Atlanta signed Polite last August, and he played in six games for the Falcons before they released him in November.
For his NFL career Polite has played in 82 games, with 32 starts; he has 296 yards and one touchdown rushing, and 241 yards with one touchdown receiving. Polite will turn 33 in September, making it unlikely that we will see him in an NFL uniform again.
2005-10: S James Sanders
– One of three players (Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell) from Fresno State to play for the Patriots during the Bill Belichick era, Sanders was selected by New England in the fourth round (133rd overall) of the 2005 draft. His rookie season he played mostly on special teams and occasionally as a nickel or dime back, appearing in ten games with two starts, highlighted by a 39-yard pick-six against Buffalo. Sanders played in all 19 games in 2006, with five starts (plus three in the playoffs) after Rodney Harrison was injured. In 2007 Sanders replaced Artrell Hawkins as a starting safety, and have two interceptions and five passes defensed while registering 71 total tackles. In 2008 Sanders again was the starter, but in ’09 his playing time started to drop with the additions of Brandon McGowan and Patrick Chung. After playing in all but one game and starting ten games in 2010, he was expected to start at safety the next season. In a relatively surprising move Sanders was released during the first round of training camp cuts in 2011.
In his six seasons with the Patriots, Sanders appeared in 84 games with 50 starts, and also played in eight playoff games. He had eight interceptions, two touchdowns, two forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries with the Pats.
Sanders signed with Atlanta for the 2011 season, getting six starts when William Moore was injured. He then signed with Arizona for the 2012 season, backing up Kerry Rhodes. He was suspended for the first four games of 2013, and has not been on an NFL roster since then. For his NFL career Sanders had played in 114 games with 56 starts, with eight picks and two touchdowns.
1996-02: S Lawyer Milloy
– A two-sport athlete at the University of Washington, Milloy was drafted to be a baseball pitcher as well as an NFL defensive back. The Pats selected him in the second round, 36th overall, in the 1996 draft. He went on to play in 246 regular and post season NFL games over 15 seasons, intercept 35 passes, and make the Pro Bowl four times. He became a starter in mid-October of his rookie season, played in 106 consecutive games, and was a team captain four times. In 1998 Milloy led the Pats with 151 tackles (100 solo), was second with six interceptions, and was named to his first Pro Bowl.
Milloy was at his best against the Pats biggest rivals. In a 21-16 victory over the Colts in ’98, he made twelve tackles while also picking off two Peyton Manning passes. The next season was highlighted with an interception off Vinny Testaverde that led to a touchdown in a 30-28 comeback victory over the Jets, and a fumble recovery off Manning to help seal another win against Indy. In 2000 he led the team with twelve tackles in another victory against the Colts, and forced an Edgerrin James fumble that set up a score.
In 2003 Milloy was in the fourth year of a seven-year, $35 million contract and was scheduled to make $4.5 million that year. He had a $5.856 million cap number, and the Patriots were tight up against the salary cap. The Pats had been attempting to renegotiate since April, and shocked the football world when they released Milloy just days before the start of the ’03 season. Milloy promptly signed with the Bills, joining Drew Beledsoe as former Patriots in Buffalo. Five days after being cut the Pats were in Buffalo for the season opener and were thrashed, 31-0, in what was to become known as either the ‘Lawyer Milloy Game‘ or the ‘They Hate Their Coach Game‘, with Milloy registering a sack, five tackles, and forcing an interception. ESPN’s Tom Jackson proclaimed, “I want to say this very clearly: they hate their coach, and their season could be over”. Jackson later admitted that he had no sources (in other words, he just made it up – yet would not apologize, and the network did not censure him. Despite dire predictions of doom, the distraction subsided and the Patriots went on to win the next two Super Bowls. At the end of the season Jackson attempted to shake Bill Belichick’s hand, and the coach not only refused but said ‘f*** you’. Years later Jackson admitted that the he attempted to motivate the Jets to beat the Patriots by predicting a Pats win, and again his employers did not censure him for the out of line bias.
But back to Lawyer Milloy… In his seven years with the Patriots, he played in 112 games, with 19 interceptions, seven sacks, seven forced fumbles, and seven fumble recoveries. He had five consecutive seasons with more than 100 total tackles, ranks fourth all-time with 538 tackles, and his 19 picks rank 12th in franchise history. In his NFL career he made 1,033 solo tackles and 1,438 tackles total, with 25 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles, and nine fumble recoveries. He says that he now understands the business side of the game and why he was released, and that he always considers himself to be a Patriot in his eyes. Milloy says that he keeps himself busy these days with his daughters’ athletic schedule, a home-based business with ACN and charitable activities.
1994: RB Leroy Thompson
– Thompson grew up in Knoxville, just a few minutes from the campus of the University of Tennessee, but decided he wanted to get away and instead went to Penn State. After backing up Blair Thomas, he became the lead back on a 1990 squad that included future NFL players Sam Gash and O.J. McDuffie. The Steelers selected Thompson in the sixth round of the 1991 draft, 158th overall. Pittsburgh was well stocked in the backfield at the time with Barry Foster, Merril Hoge, Warren Williams and Tim Worley, but Thompson was seen as someone who could play special teams and provide depth as a third down back, to replace Richard Bell.
In his first two seasons, Thompson had only 55 rushes and 36 receptions, totaling 613 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown. Foster and Worley both missed a combined 18 games in 1993, paving the way for Thompson to take on an expanded role. He started six games and led the Steelers with 763 yards rushing and 1,022 yards from scrimmage. He was a restricted free agent following that season, and his agent thought he could get Thompson – who wanted to stay in Pittsburgh – a nice pay raise by telling the front office to pay us or trade us. The Steelers responded by calling the bluff, and traded him to New England in exchange for a fourth round pick in the upcoming draft. To make room for Thompson, the Patriots relinquished their rights to unsigned Leonard Russell, who had rushed for 1,088 yards and seven touchdowns the previous season.
Thompson was part of the 1994 team under Bill Parcells that doubled their wins from five to ten, and made the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. Thompson once again found himself in a backup role though, replacing Marion Butts on third downs. He split kick return duties with Ray Crittenden, averaging 20.9 yards on 18 kickoff returns, while also gaining 777 yards from scrimmage and scoring seven touchdowns. The next season he became an unrestricted free agent, and went to Kansas City – another move which he later says he regretted – on the premise that he would replace Marcus Allen as the Chiefs’ starting running back. The problem was that even though Allen was 35 years old, he still had plenty of tread left on his tires after years of not being used while in Al Davis’ doghouse, and Thompson ended up with the least amount of playing time since his rookie season. Thompson then joined Tampa Bay for the 1994 season, but he was released in late October when Errict Rhett ended his holdout and rejoined the team.
In his one season with the Patriots, Thompson rushed for 312 yards and two touchdowns and had 65 receptions for 465 yards and five touchdowns. His 65 receptions were third most on the team that year, part of a contingent in which five players had more than 50 catches each. At the time his 376 kick return yards were 28th all-time in franchise history; somewhat remarkably that still places him in the top-50 on the team leader board (43rd). One footnote to his career: he (along with Ben Coates and Michael Timpson) each had double-digit receptions in the famous victory against Minnesota when Drew Bledsoe went 45-70; I don’t know of any game before or since when three players on the same team each had ten or more receptions. Thompson 4th-quarter touchdown reception pulled the Pats to within three in that game, with a Matt Bahr field goal tying the game, and Bledsoe’s final pass to Kevin Turner winning it in overtime.
Since leaving the NFL, Thompson has been active in charities and volunteers at programs such as the YMCA and Boys Club. He is also the owner of BDT Development & Management, which is a real estate development and construction management firm that builds retail centers, residential developments, and provides project management services on public and federal projects. He has also worked as a regional director for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, overseeing efforts to attract new businesses, help existing businesses expand and support other regional economic development efforts for the state.
1991-93: S Jerome Henderson (wore 26 in ’96)
– Not to be confused with Mark Henderson, Jerome Henderson was a free safety at Clemson whom the Patriots selected in the second round, 41st overall, in the 1991 draft. Dallas had traded Ron Francis, David Howard, Eugene Lockhart, their 1991 first round pick (which turned out to be Pat Harlow, 11th overall) and the pick used to select Henderson in exchange for the Patriots number one overall pick in the ’91 draft. At the time the logic seemed right, as the Patriots had plenty of holes to fill, but the Cowboys got the better end of the deal, selecting Russell Maryland with the first pick of the ’91 draft. The Dick MacPherson-Joe Mendes-Victor Kiam era Patriots had been unable to agree to terms with Raghib Ismail, which prompted the trade. Dallas wanted Ismail but they too could not sign him, so they took Maryland instead, and won three Super Bowls with him as their starting defensive tackle.
Henderson played in every game his first two seasons. During that time he had five picks and a fumble recovery, and he returned 27 punts his rookie season for an average of 7.4 yards. Bill Parcells shuffled Henderson off to Buffalo the following season, and he played with the Bills and Eagles before returning to New England for the 1996 season. Henderson then played for the Jets for two seasons, before embarking on a career as an NFL position coach. He was an assistant in New York in 2007, and then was the Jets’ defensive backs coach when Darrelle Revis was a rookie in 2008. Henderson then took the same position with Cleveland for three seasons; in his final year there the Browns ranked second in the NFL in pass defense. Since 2012 Henderson has been the defensive backs coach for Dallas.
In his NFL career Henderson appeared in 98 games with 34 starts, with nine career interceptions. He played in two Super Bowl: with the Bills in their 30-13 loss to Dallas Super Bowl 28, and with the Patriots in their 35-21 loss to the Packers in Super Bowl 31. Henderson played in a total of 40 games with ten starts with seven interceptions during his two stints with the Patriots. His biggest highlight was probably an interception against the Jets in 1996 that set up a touchdown; the Pats won that game 34-10 to clinch a playoff berth.
1990: S Brian Hutson
– Hutson was a strong safety who graduated from Mississippi State in 1987, and went undrafted. His only time in the NFL came with the Patriots three years later; I’m not sure if he played in the CFL or somewhere else in the interim. He did play in two games for the Pats in ’90, but that’s about all I know of his football career. He is the owner of BHC Office Solutions in Addison Texas, a company that has been in the Dallas area for 25 years that specializes in sales, service, design, installation, liquidation, asset management and client storage of new and pre-owned office furniture.
1972-74: RB John Tarver
– After two years of junior college, Tarver transferred to the University of Colorado. In two seasons with the Buffaloes he rushed for 14 touchdowns and 1300 yards, averaging 5.0 yards per carry, splitting his time there at tailback and fullback. The Patriots selected him in the seventh round of the 1972 draft, 166th overall, with a pick that was acquired the previous year when they traded Eddie Ray (see below).
Tarver spent the fist six weeks of his rookie season on the taxi squad before being elevated to the team’s regular roster. He was more of a threat catching the ball (112 yards on 11 catches) than running (132 yards, 3.1 average), as a backup to Carl Garrett and Josh Ashton that season. In ’73 he was starting to get a fair amount of the carries (17 in week 3, 14 in week 4), but then he got Wally Pipp’d. Tarver missed five games with a broken scapula, and while he was gone rookie Sam Cunningham took over as the primary ball carrier. Tarver finished the season with four touchdowns and 321 yards rushing, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, but he also had his share of fumbles (8). In ’74 he played in all 14 games but got only 41 carries, for 101 yards and two scores.
On January 23 the Patriots traded Tarver to Philadelphia for the Eagles’ fifth round pick in the ’75 draft, and a 1976 eighth round pick. He finished his career with the Pats with 15 starts in 31 games, with a total of eight touchdowns and 754 yards from scrimmage. He is tied with LaGarrette Blount and Billy Lott for 32nd in club history with seven rushing touchdowns, and his 554 rushing yards ranks 41st in franchise history, right between Reggie Dupard and Drew Bledsoe. Tarver lasted just one more year in the NFL, playing in eight games for Philly with just seven carries.
1970: RB Eddie Ray
– Ray was a running back and punter for Louisiana State from 1967-69, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and being named All-SEC his senior year. Ray also led the conference with an average of 42.8 yards per punt as a sophomore. For his three seasons with the Tigers he averaged 4.5 yards on 227 carries, for 1,011 yards and five touchdowns; he also had 22 receptions for 217 yards and one score. The Patriots selected him in the fourth round, 83rd overall in the 1970 draft. At 6’2″, 230 pounds, he was seen as a backup and possibly eventual replacement to Jim Nance, but that never materialized. He was a bit heavy when he arrived in training camp, and an ankle injury limited him to five rushes for 13 yards in five games as a rookie.
The next off-season the Patriots tried him at tight end as well as fullback, but it didn’t pan out. On September 8, 1971, the Patriots traded Ray to San Diego for their seventh round pick in the 1972 draft; that turned out to be John Tarver. In his first three seasons, Ray had a total of 62 yards rushing with three different teams. In 1973 he had his best NFL season, with the Falcons, when he had a total of 11 touchdowns and 626 yards from scrimmage. 1976 was his last NFL season, with Buffalo. He finished his NFL career with 48 games played, 691 yards rushing, nine rushing touchdowns, 275 yards receiving, two touchdown catches – and 21 fumbles on just 214 touches.
1969: TE Ken Herock
– Undrafted out of West Virginia, Herock spent six seasons in the AFL before having a long career as a scout. He was primarily a tight end, but like many players at that time he played both offense and defense, and was a linebacker as well. Herock spent four seasons with Oakland, one with Cincinnati, and one with the Patriots. He played in six games for the Pats in 1969, but had no receptions. For his AFL career he had 64 catches for 924 yards and four touchdowns over 73 games, plus one other score on a 15-yard fumble return.
After he hung up his cleats, Herock spent seven years as Oakland’s personnel scout and special teams and tight end coach, before becoming their personnel director when the Raiders won Super Bowl XI. He then went to Tampa Bay and became the Bucs’ Director of Player Personnel for eight years, before discovering as many others did that Hugh Culverhouse was a penny pincher, and that he could make more money elsewhere. He returned to the Raiders for three years, and then was named Director of Player Personnel for Atlanta in 1987. From 1988-96 he was the Falcons’ Vice President of Player Personnel, during which time they acquired players such as Jamal Anderson, Cornellus Bennett, Chris Doleman, Brett Favre, Chris Hinton, Lincoln Kennedy, Andre Rison, Chuck Smith, Deion Sanders and Bob Whitfield.
Herock then returned once again to the Raiders for one season, and then joined the Packers, where he was named Vice President of Personnel; he remained in that position until 2001. In 2002 Herock established Pro Prep, which is a service that prepares pro prospects for the National Football League. He has a thriving business that has worked with more than 800 prospects over the years, to prepare them and enhance their position in the NFL Draft. In 2010 Herock gained a bit of notoriety when he stated that ‘no question is off limits‘ when it comes to interviewing a prospect, in response to the Dolphins’ controversy with the line of questioning they had with Dez Bryant.
1967-68: P Terry Swanson
– Like many players on the Boston Patriots, Terry Swanson was a local guy. He was born in Cambridge, went to Belmont High, and then went to college at UMass, where he punted and played safety. With the Redmen, as they were known back then – see Dan Snyder, it is okay to change your team name – Swanson averaged 40.5 yards on 65 punts. Swanson was signed as an undrafted free agent after averaging 48.8 yards in a special tryout that the Pats held for punters. His first season he averaged 40.5 yards on 65 punts, and in 1968 that dropped to 39.5 yards – with two blocks – on 62 punts.
In the off-season, the Patriots traded for Tom Janik, and he became the team’s new punter. At the time he left, Swanson ranked second all-time in team history with 5,081 punting yards. Today that, and his 127 punts both rank 13th in franchise history. After being released, Swanson became a horse trainer – specifically for sulky horses. He made a comeback late in 1969 with the Bengals, but after that he became a full time horse trainer.
1963: HB Tom Neumann
– Despite being a very late round draft picking and only playing one season with the team, Neumann is very much a part of the folklore and history of this franchise. He attended the university of Wisconsin for two years, then transferred to Northern Michigan. His senior year he set a single-season record for the Wildcats by rushing for 835 yards, and was named to the small college All-Star team, played in the All-American Bowl, and received honorable mention on the Little All-American team. The Patriots selected him with the seventh pick of the 17th round, 135th overall in the 1963 draft.
After three seasons playing at Nickerson Field, the Patriots had the opportunity to play their home games in a ‘major league’ stadium: Fenway Park. On Friday October 11, 1963, the Pats hosted their first game at Fenway, against the Raiders, in front of a crowd of 26,494. Oakland led 14-3 in the second half, but the Patriots came storming back, scoring 17 points in less than five minutes to win the game. Babe Parilli – who had been questionable to play two days earlier, with an arm injury – hit Jimmy Colclough on a long bomb at the five yard line, and Colclough ran it in for a 56-yard touchdown. On the ensuing drive, Bob Dee hit Oakland quarterback Tom Flores, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Larry Eisenhauer on the Raiders’ 25-yard line. That led to a Gino Capeletti field goal, that put the Patriots within one point of Oakland. On the first play from scrimmage after the kickoff, Houston Antwine and Ross O’Hanley forced another fumble, and the Pats had a first and ten at the Raiders’ twenty yard line.
Parilli was scrambling in the backfield, somehow eluding the Oakland rush, trying to find a receiver. He found Neumann on the two, but the pass was a bit off, behind his target. Neumann whirled around, managed to catch the ball, and fell into the end zone for the go-ahead score. The Patriots would go on to defeat the Buffalo Bills to win the AFL East that season, before falling to San Diego in the AFL championship game.
That touchdown turned out to be the only one of Neumann’s career, but it won the Patriots’ first-ever game at Fenway Park. He played ten games for the Pats in 1963, with 148 yards rushing and 48 yards receiving, serving as Jim Crawford’s backup at halfback. In 1964 Neumann was again with the team, but did not make the roster out of training camp.
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