Yesterday, Bill Belichick called him "the heart and soul of our defense for many years". He spent 12 years with the New England Patriots and appeared in 171 games for the team. He won three Super Bowls – and today, Willie McGinest will be inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame.
To honor one of the franchise's all-time greats, here is a totally subjective countdown of his top five moments (in honor of his jersey number 55):
Honorable mention: Super Bowl XXXIX
McGinest's fourth time on the big stage and the third time he won the Lombardi Trophy. Judging by the stat sheet it wasn't one of the biggest performances of his career. It wasn't one of his biggest performances by impact plays, either. Still, there is a reason Super Bowl XXXIX is included in this countdown as an honorable mention. McGinest, the prototypical outside linebacker in the 2000s Patriots' 3-4 scheme, was used in a different role: as a 4-3 defensive end in order to contain Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and his scrambling skills. It worked – McNabb scrambled only once and did not gain any yards – and was a primary example of what McGinest was about as a player. He did what needed to be done to help his team, and he did it at an exeptional level.
In 2014, Wille McGinest was already six years into his post-football life. Yet, he was still able to produce one of his most memorable moments. Entering the stage on the second day of the 2014 Draft to announce the Patriots' second round pick, the former Patriot was greeted by New York boos – and he loved every moment of it. Especially when he a) showcased his New England Patriots sweater and b) talked about "your New England, and my New England Patriots". Words cannot give this moment enough credit so click here to watch the video. The swagger and love for his team McGinest displayed on that day were two of his hallmarks while he was in Foxboro.
4. 2004 Opening Day
On the day the Patriots' unveiled their second Super Bowl banner and Brady vs. Manning went in its fifth round, McGinest played an integral role in the team's win. With 49 seconds left in the game, the visiting Colts were down 27-24 but driving for the win, and found themselves in a 3rd-and-8 situation at the Patriots' 17 yard line. Manning received the shotgun snap and looked down the left side of the field, unaware of McGinest, who was blitzing from the offense's right. McGinest sacked Manning 12 yards behind the line of scrimmage and made the ensuing field goal attempt a tough one for Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt. He missed and the Patriots prevailed 27-24 to bring their streak to 16 consecutive victories.
3. The Record Breaker
Willie McGinest shined brightest when the stage was biggest – and no stage is bigger than the NFL playoffs. One statistic that examplifies McGinest's ability to make game-changing plays in the most important moments is the following: he is the NFL's all-time leader in postseason sacks with 16.0. He also holds another posteason record, just like the 16.0 sacks established on January 7, 2006 against the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars. McGinest sacked Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich a record 4.5 times. He was nearly unblockable that day and an integral part of the Patriots' 28-3 victory. Of course, 2.5 sacks came with the game already out of reach but it still was a historic moment and one that McGinest had earned.
2. Super Bowl XXXVI
It was the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXVI against the heavily favored St. Louis Rams. The Patriots led the game 17-10 but the "Greatest Show on Turf" was rallying. After the Rams' first touchdown of the game earlier in the quarter, the Patriots went 3-and-out. It took Kurt Warner and company seven plays to get from their own 7 yard line to the Patriots' 38. That's when Warner met McGinest on 2nd-and-9. The result was a 16-yard sack, which took a lot of momentum away from the offense and led to a punt two plays later. It was a big play, one that showed McGinest's athleticism and his knack for coming through in the clutch. Even though St. Louis would go on to tie the game, the Patriots had 1:21 left on the game clock. The rest is history and McGinest's sack, which practically ended a promising St. Louis drive, was an important yet often overlooked play.
It wasn't a playoff game or a record-breaking sack, but it was probably the most iconic moment of Wille McGinest's illustrious career. After having stopped Colts' running back Edgerrin James on 4th-and-goal from the one-yard line to secure a 38-34 Patriots victory in Indianapolis, McGinest sprinted towards midfield, his right hand raised towards the sky in jubilation. McGinest, who was plagued by cramps earlier during the Colts' final drive, crashed in from the defense's left at full speed and, assisted by defensive tackle Ted Washington, tackled the running back behind the line of scrimmage with 14 seconds left. It was arguably the most famous one of numerous big plays McGinest made in his career – a career that has earned him a red jacked as a member of the Patriots' Hall of Fame.