BOSTON (CBS) — Vince Wilfork’s NFL career is in the books, ending where it began 13 years ago.
Wilfork spent 11 of his 13 seasons clogging the defensive line for the New England Patriots, winning a Super Bowl as a rookie and then again in his final year with the team. His final game came against the Patriots eight months ago, when he watched his former team beat up on the Texans 34-16 in the AFC Divisional round en route to their Super Bowl LI victory.
On Wednesday, Wilfork’s career came full circle. He signed a one-day contract with New England and officially retired as a member of the Patriots. He returned to the place he considers home, sharing some laughs, some hugs and a few tears with Patriots owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick before riding off into the sunset as a Patriot for life.
The gentle giant never shied away from a challenge, and Wilfork said he was constantly challenged during his career.
“I believed I was the baddest person on the field at all times, and that’s what kept me driving,” he said.
He took being drafted by the defending Super Bowl champs as a challenge to continue the franchise’s greatness, and said that coach Belichick was always testing him each and every day he stepped on the field.
“There were times I could have easily been complacent, but not under your watch. You always had a way to get to me, whether you tried or not,” Wilfork said of his former head coach. “That drove me to the best I could because I never wanted to let you down. You made me prove it every time I stepped on the field.”
Because of that, Belichick would always turn to Wilfork to be a leader of his teams, calling him the “captain of all captains.”
“He was the best defensive linemen I ever coached,” said Belichick.
But Wilfork was much more than a force on the field and in the locker room. Just as quick as the big man became a fan favorite, he and his wife Bianca became a part of the New England Patriots family. They formed a great relationship with Belichick and Kraft, with the Patriots owner recalling the support he received from the couple after his wife, Myra, passed away in 2011.
Wilfork would always greet Myra and Robert with a kiss on the cheek before games (or as Kraft would call them, smooches). When Myra passed away, Wilfork would give Kraft a kiss on each cheek, with the second one for Myra.
On Wednesday, Kraft was wearing the chain that the Wilforks gave him as a gift, which included a picture of Kraft and his late wife.
In the end, Wilfork said he always put the team first, which is what made him such a great fit for the Patriots.
“I never looked at my career as an individual. I told people this plenty of times, if I wanted to be an individual I could’ve pursued track and field and shotput, because I was pretty good at that. I’ve always prepared to be the best I can be because of my teammates. I had the best teammates I could possibly have,” said Wilfork.
As for what’s next, Wilfork said he’s going to take the next year to relax. He doesn’t want to jump into anything at the moment, but can see a lot of fishing, grilling and family time in his future.