He wasn't the biggest. He wasn't the fastest. He wasn't the strongest.
He wasn't the best pass protector. He wasn't the best run blocker. Hell, he didn't even have a position.
Connolly is a 6'3, 310 lbs offensive lineman from Southeast Missouri State, who spent four seasons in college as an offensive tackle. He was undrafted in 2005, even thought he was a four year starter, because what the heck is Southeast Missouri State, and signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars when they were still considered a football team.
Connolly made the 53 man roster as an undrafted free agent rookie, but was only active for four games. He spent the entire 2006 season on the Injured Reserve and the Jaguars released him prior to the 2007 season.
The New England Patriots signed Connolly to their practice squad in 2007, where they made their attempt for perfection that was never meant to be. Connolly spent the majority of the 2007 and 2008 seasons on the practice squad, but finished the final couple of weeks in 2008 on the active roster.
Connolly made the Patriots active roster to start the 2009 season, and even saw four spot starts as Stephen Neal missed various amounts of time. He played snaps at right guard and, best part, he was good.
The next season, Connolly stepped in at left guard while Logan Mankins held out for a new contract. While Connolly was simply okay at left guard, he proved his worth as a swing guard since Neal went down with a season ending injury the week after Mankins returned. Connolly ended up starting the first half the season at left guard, and the second half at right guard. He was never great, but he did his job, whatever that happened to be.
In 2011, Connolly was back on the bench, for roughly a quarter, until the team's long time starting center Dan Koppen went down for a season ending injury. Connolly played the season as the team's starting center. He was, again, merely okay.
But for those keeping score, in three seasons with the Patriots, Connolly had been asked to start at left guard, center, and right guard, in place of long time starters Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, and Stephen Neal (who combined to start 331 games in a Patriots uniform). And he did all of them pretty well.
After that 2011 season, Connolly was a mainstay on the offensive line, playing the next two seasons at right guard, before flipping to left guard upon Mankins' departure to Tampa Bay. I always considered him the weakest link on the line, and his play declined in each subsequent season. But he was also named captain of the 2014 Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots and he deserved that accolade just as much as the other captains.
During the 2014 season, Connolly could easily be considered the team's offensive line's most valuable player. He played at center while rookie Bryan Stork was injured, flanked by Marcus Cannon and Jordan Devey. He played right guard until Ryan Wendell and Bryan Stork were both ready to play after Week 4. He played left guard for the majority of the season.
He was the constant for the team, in dire need of consistency. He was the calming veteran presence that helped left tackle Nate Solder in a way no other player could. He was the true leader of that offensive line and he was everything that Bill Belichick ever wanted in an offensive lineman.
Connolly was an undrafted rookie, who should have been a career back-up lineman, who was inserted as a starter on the best franchise in all of football and helped the team to two Super Bowls (and a third while on the practice squad), winning the final one before his retirement.
He was never perfect. But in all of his imperfection, he gave the team everything he had, he did his job to the best of his ability, and he spent eight terrific seasons with New England.
Dan Connolly spent his career toiling as an underheralded player on the offensive line, and he will never receive the same praise that the quintessential Patriots like Troy Brown and Julian Edelman have had heaped upon their feet for their selfless play and attitude.
And, just like Brown and Edelman, Connolly had no problem contributing on a different side of the ball.
Connolly played every single role that Belichick asked of him and he was the perfectly imperfect captain for the 2014 team. That will be his legacy: a five year starter, a Super Bowl winner, a team captain, and one of the greatest underdog stories of the Bill Belichick era.
Dan Connolly, we thank you for all of the effort, all of the selflessness, all of the blood, sweet, tears, time, energy, and everything else you've contributed to this team over the past eight seasons.