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Former New England Patriots Willie McGinest and Ty Law have recently expressed interest in returning to the team they spent the majority of their careers with for one last day. McGinest played outside linebacker for the Pats from 1994-2005, while Law played cornerback from 1995-2004. Both played integral parts in the Patriots defenses that won Super Bowls in 2001, 2003, and 2004. But, both were eventually released and finished their careers with other teams (Law with the Broncos and McGinest with the Browns).
In the end, both will always be remembered for their days in New England, and because of this both would like to sign one-day contracts with their former team.
One-day contracts are a fairly recent phenomenon: players who spent the majority of their career with one team, but who end their career with another sign a contract for one day without pay so they can retire with that team. Many high profile players do this, such as Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice or Nomar Garciaparra in baseball. But, other less known players have begun to do this as well, such as Paul Spicer and Donovin Darius, both who retired this year as Jacksonville Jaguars.
The practice of one-day contracts is an interesting one. Obviously it is more symbolic than anything else, saying that even though you played your last years for another team, this team is the one you want to be remembered for. It is a sign to the fans that you are loyal to the team even though you left, especially in the case of Ty Law, who left for the rival New York Jets. I think that a player should be allowed to do this, unless we’re talking about a player that completely alienated himself from the team he played most of his career with, a la Roger Clemens.
It doesn’t cost anything to the team, and it’s a considerate gesture to the player and to the fans, or former fans, of that player. In today’s era of free agency, in all sports few players spend their entire career with the same team, so a player who played a good 8+ seasons with one team should be recognized at the end of his career.
I think in the Patriots’ case specifically, the only reason to deny Law and McGinest would be to avoid setting a precedent. More than any other team, the Patriots have a tendency to let go long time players when they hit free agency, no matter how long or successful that player’s career. If the Patriots agree to do this with Law and McGinest, you have to look at guys like Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, Adam Vinatieri, Lawyer Milloy, or even older guys like Drew Bledsoe and Terry Glenn. You start to get into debates of who deserves it an who doesn’t, a debate the Patriot front office does not want to have.
However, I strongly feel that Ty Law and Willie McGinest deserve to have their wishes respected. I feel this way simply because Law and McGinest are the epitome of the type of players who turned the Patriots into a dynasty. Compare the Patriots teams that won Super Bowls to the one that went undefeated in the regular season: the Super Bowl teams may not have been flashy or had the same star power, but they had so many gamers on defense, that once they got to the playoffs they refused to lose.
The thing that makes Law and McGinest unique is that they went through so much early in their career before finally winning a Super Bowl. They are of only four players who played in Super Bowl XXXI against Green Bay and in all three Super Bowl victories (the other two being Adam Vinatieri and Troy Brown). And they each suffered through the seasons that followed, the infamous Pete Carroll era and the disappointing inaugural Bill Belicheck season, before capturing the first of three Lombardi trophies.
And when you think of Law and McGinest, you think of their playoff exploits. In Super Bowl 36 it was Ty Law who took a tepid sideline pass from Kurt Warner to the house giving the Patriots their first points in their upset victory. Even more impressive was his performance two years later when he intercepted Peyton Manning three times in the AFC championship game. McGinest didn’t have a particularly definitive playoff moment, rather an unparalleled display of consistent excellence come playoff time. McGinest began his playoff career his rookie season (1994) where he recorded his first playoff sack and culminated in 2005 when set a playoff record for sacks in a game against Jacksonville. Along the way he set a NFL record for most sacks in a playoff career with 16.
While Law and McGinest were not able to finish their careers with the team they took to unparalleled heights like players such as Troy Brown and Teddy Bruschi, they were as instrumental as them or any player for that matter. And it seems fitting that it should go down in the record books that they retired as New England Patriots.