By John Ingoldsby, Player Engagement Insider
The planets were aligned in Patriot Land recently when Number 26 Raymond Clayborn fittingly became the 26th player inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame.
Before yet another large crowd surrounding the stage for the annual event, Clayborn’s career as a record-setting cornerback and return specialist for a total of 15 years in the 1970s and 80s (he played his final two years for the Cleveland Browns in 1991-1992) was celebrated by both former New England Patriots and fans alike.
Tied with former cornerback Ty Law for the team’s career interception mark of 36, Clayborn was quick to recall his biggest pick during his most memorable game ever, the 1985 AFC Championship Game.
“We went into the Orange Bowl having lost 18 straight there to the Miami Dolphins, but we shut down (quarterback) Dan Marino and I made an interception in one of my proudest moments ever in a game that is forever etched in the history books,” recalled the three-time first team All-Pro.
His shutdown performance that day helped propel the Patriots to their first-ever Super Bowl appearance, and leave an indelible mark.
“I believe our ’85 team had one of the best secondaries ever, which included Fred Marion, Roland James, and Ronnie Lippett, and it all came together when we were the wild card and won three road games,” said the Fort Worth native who played at the University of Texas.
But he recalled his surprise in 1977, as the first-round NFL Draft pick,coming from the legendary Longhorn program to the old field in Foxboro.
“When I saw the old stadium, it looked like a high school field compared with UT,” remembered Clayborn, adding as he looked around the NRG Plaza outside The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon, “Things sure have changed in Foxboro.”
Change to be sure, and thriving today due to a foundation laid by players like Clayborn and Pro Football Hall of Fame teammates John Hannah, Andre Tippett and Mike Haynes, who joined him on a panel to close out the ceremony.
Haynes, who was the Patriots’ ultimate shutdown corner for the first few years of Clayborn’s career, said simply, “We were the best, and fortunate to have numerous number one Draft choices like Ray in our secondary, so we had all the makings to be great.”
Haynes also quipped that, “corners were the smartest guys on the team,” but got serious when he said that renowned Patriots personnel guru Bucko Kilroy once told him, “Ray is the smartest guy on the team,” which Haynes said made perfect sense to him.
But perhaps the highest compliment came from fellow panelist and defensemen Tippett, who said simply, “Ray is the greatest cornerback I ever played with.”
High praise from the likes of Tippett and Haynes, who were joined in the celebration of Clayborn by his former teammates that included Steve Nelson, Steve Grogan, Stanley Morgan, Jim Bowman, Cedric Jones, Toby Williams, and Lippett, and others including Sam Cunningham, Tim Fox, Don Hasselbeck, John Smith, Randy Vataha, and Scott Zolak, now the team radio announcer.
As always, Clayborn received his signature red jacket from Patriots owner Bob Kraft, who called him a fan favorite by playing in 147 straight games over 11 seasons, still the franchise record.
John Ingoldsby is the President and Founder of IIR Sports, Inc., a sports media firm based in Boston. He has covered the NFL throughout his career that began as a newspaper reporter/editor, which includes articles in Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine (NFL Player Engagement), London-based Financial Times newspaper (NFL's international strategy), the Philadelphia Daily News (annual NFC Coaches Breakfast) and the Boston Globe (Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll).