Quarterback Tom Brady is not the last vestige remaining from the New England Patriots’ last Super Bowl champions.
Brady, of course, is the offensive face of the franchise, having led the Patriots to championships in 2001, 2003 and 2004. And defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is the defensive force, having joined the Patriots as a first-round draft pick in 2004 and still clogging up the line of scrimmage for the NFL’s ninth-best defense against the run.
Wilfork, a massive 6-foot-2, 325 pounder, is savoring his fourth trip to the Super Bowl. New England beat Philadelphia in Super Bowl XXXIX in Wilfork’s rookie season but lost to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII when the Patriots were bidding to become the first 18-0 team in NFL history, and to the Giants again in Super Bowl XLVI three years ago.
He’s put those games behind him heading into Super Bowl XLIX against Seattle on Sunday.
“I don’t think those Super Bowls have anything to do with this one,” said Wilfork, 33. “I won’t think one time about being in the previous Super Bowls I’ve been in. I’ve been in three and lost two and won one. It’s different. Every season is different. Every team is different. My teammates are different. Coaches are different. Everything is different, so you really can’t dwell over how many you won, how many you lost. It’s all about now.
“It’s very special to be at this point. We played one of the most important games just to get to this point and now all of a sudden, everything you played for is right before your eyes.”
Playing in his fourth Super Bowl is also meaningful to Wilfork because he suffered a season-ending Achilles’ injury in the fourth game of the 2013 season. The Patriots came up one game short of the Super Bowl last year, losing at Denver in the AFC Championship Game.
“Me being out last year, it (stunk) to see my team lose in the AFC Championship, and my goal was to come back and help this team to get to where we didn’t get last year and to play at this level and to be in this game and win and walk off the field and have the guys so excited about this feeling, that’s what it’s all about,” Wilfork said.
“It was never about how well I can come back, because at the end of the day I’m a football player. Not once I never thought about how would I play or would I be afraid to take a step or take on a double team or do this. My main goal was to get healthy and help this team win ballgames.”
Wilfork, a Patriots team captain for the seventh straight year, did his part this season by starting all 16 games. Not only did he make 47 tackles and record a sack, Wilfork’s biggest play was intercepting a deflected pass in the final minute that preserved a 16-9 victory over Oakland on Sept. 21. The Raiders were inside the New England 10 when Wilfork came up with his third career interception.
Wilfork made another save after the Patriots beat Indianapolis 45-7 in the AFC Championship Game. As he was driving home, Wilfork came upon an overturned SUV and assisted a Massachusetts State Police trooper in pulling the driver out of the upended vehicle.
“I saw the lady in there, and I asked her was she OK, could she move, and grabbed her hand and kind of talked her through, got her up and actually pulled her out of the window,” Wilfork said. “I actually opened up the door and pulled her out. It wasn’t a big deal. It was just seeing somebody who needed help and I helped them.”
Wilfork never hesitated in lending a hand.
“My job right then and there was to help the person in the car,” he said. “I was just lucky to help. I don’t want anything from it. If I see that a million times, I’ll do it a million times, no matter what the situation may be. Luckily, my wife and I were able to actually help and be there when it happened and get her to safety.”
As it turned out, the woman Wilfork pulled to safety was charged with operating under the influence of alcohol and negligent operation of a motor vehicle. That mattered little to Wilfork and his wife, Bianca.
“You kind of reflect on life a bit,” he said. “Here I am, won the most important game of our season and flash right in front of your eyes, your life, somebody that’s in danger. I didn’t think about anything that was going on in my life at the time. The only thing I thought about was seeing there was somebody in there and getting them to safety.
“After I did and drove off, my wife and I kind of talked in the car and just said, ‘Things are a lot more precious in life other than games or anything you accomplish in life.’ There are some things out there that are more important and it showed last night. Even though we won the AFC Championship, there was a life in danger, so we were just happy to help.”