Best of the Belichick Era: Number 18 — Roman Phifer


I'm spending 50 days ranking the top 50 players of the Bill Belichick Era, from No. 50 down to No. 1. (Click here for a criteria on how I made my selections.)


Today we reach . . . .

Years With Patriots: 2001-2004
Games: 59
Playoff Games: 9
Honors: Super Bowl winner (2001, 2003, 2004), Pro Bowl Alternate (2001, 2003)

After the Patriots won their first Super Bowl in 2001, Bill Belichick said, “I feel good for a lot of people on our team,'' he said, ''but I don't think I feel as good for anyone as I do for Roman Phifer.'' It’s been 11 years since Phifer wore a Patriots’ uniform. But the brilliant and versatile linebacker – marooned on a bad Rams team from 1991 to 1998 and then with the Jets for two fruitless seasons – who got his late-career payoff when the Patriots signed him as a role player in 2001 has had a lasting impact. In 2004, Tedy Bruschi said, “I've seen a lot of linebackers play in this league, but if there's a guy I want to mold my career after, it's Roman Phifer, the way he physically and mentally prepares himself. He's a guy you don't talk about a lot. He doesn't get a lot of recognition, but he's always there and you know it." From Phifer to Bruschi to Jerod Mayo to the guys Mayo took under his wing and are now flourishing, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins, Phifer set a linebacking standard. He didn’t put up crazy numbers for the Patriots. But he joined the team at 33 and rolled up 337 tackles playing inside in the Patriots’ 3-4. He was also excellent in coverage. Phifer was one of the Patriots that Belichick didn’t have to worry about. He knew his job and did his job. And guys like Bruschi and Mike Vrabel – who hadn’t been a starter in Pittsburgh – drafted off Phifer’s example. Phifer worked out a deal with Belichick when he signed. He would be allowed to train on his own in the offseason and, after games, would frequently fly home to California then return to the team on Wednesday. He was that dependable. Said Belichick, "He's got this program he's on that exceeds what ours would be. We have other players who have trouble keeping up with what he does in the offseason." To describe Phifer, Belichick used an adjective you don’t often hear him employ. Amazing

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