It was bad enough the New England Patriots lost the physical contributions of 325-lb. Vince Wilfork to an injury. But would the team also forgo his spiritual support, a big loss considering team owner Robert Kraft calls Wilfork the Pat’s “heart and soul”, at away games due to the team’s unwritten rule against injured players traveling to away games with the team? No, they made an exception for the big man who is also a team captain and an integral part of one of pro football’s perennial powers. Pam Oliver profiles the dynamic Wilfork on the next edition of 60 MINUTES SPORTS premiering Wednesday,
The injury to his Achilles tendon took him off the field for the season, but Wilfork was determined to not let it take him away from the game and his teammates. He approached Coach Bill Belichick. “‘Bill, you know I would love to travel with the team when I am able to. I understand if you tell me no…but I want to be with you guys,’” He says he asked, “And [Belichick] was like ‘We would love that.’”
Exceptions are usually reserved for players who carry the ball or make spectacular open-field tackles, not for hulking lineman like Wilfork. But Wilfork is no ordinary nose tackle. “He’s the heart and soul,” says Kraft, who calls Wilfork a personal friend. “You’re always looking for leadership from within, where someone steps up and motivates and brings people to a higher plane,” says the Patriots owner.
“He is an inspiration, especially to the younger guys coming in and the way he conducts himself. He is pretty special,” says Kraft.
Wilfork says he wasn’t always special. He evolved into the player and person he is now through change that began five years ago. Then, he was more likely to be singled out for bad conduct on the field than for being a good example to youth. “It was a chip I had on my shoulder and I showed it every play,” recalls Wilfork.
The turning point, he says, was a late hit on then-Denver Quarterback Jay Cutler that cost him a big fine and made him and his wife re-examine his attitude. “My wife and I, we talked. I said, ‘You know what, I need to do things a little different. I need to tone it down a little bit man,’” he says he told his wife, Bianca, who Oliver also speaks to at length for this story.
“We have rules now,” Bianca tells Oliver.