Later today, the New England Patriots’ franchise Hall of Fame will be expanded by two of the greatest ever players to wear the red, white and blue: in a ceremony outside of the Hall adjacent to Gillette Stadium, the late offensive tackle Leon Gray and two-time world champion defensive back Rodney Harrison will become the 28th and 29th men to be inducted into the Hall. The event will start at 4:30 p.m. ET and is open to the general public.
A third-round draft pick by the Miami Dolphins in 1973, Gray joined the Patriots off waivers that same year and went on to establish himself as an integral member of one of the best offensive lines not only in franchise but arguably also in pro football history. The Jackson State product appeared in 80 games for New England over the course of six seasons and was voted to two Pro Bowls (1976, 1978) and one All-Pro team (1978).
In 1976, Gray and company helped the Patriots average 210.6 rushing yards over the course of the 14-game regular season — a franchise mark that still stands today. Two years later, after the NFL had switched to a 16-game regular season format, Gray and the rest of the Patriots’ offensive line paved the way for an NFL record 3,165 rushing yards. The number still stands undisputed today and will likely never be broken again.
Just before the start of the 1979 season, Gray’s tenure with the Patriots came to an abrupt end when the club decided to trade him to the Houston Oilers. He spent three seasons with his new club before another trade sent him to the New Orleans Saints. Following his second year with the Saints, after the 1983 season, the then 32-year-old decided to retire from football. In November 2001 at the age of just 49, Gray passed away.
Harrison was originally acquired by the Patriots as an unrestricted free agent in 2003. The former San Diego Chargers fifth-round draft choice would go on to spend the final six seasons of his fifteen-year career in New England, where he was a cornerstone of a team that won the Super Bowl in 2003 and 2004. A member of the Patriots’ 50th anniversary squad and team of the 2000s, Harrison appeared in a combined 72 regular season and playoff games for the club.
His impressive résumé with the Patriots speaks for itself: Harrison registered a combined 514 tackles while playing for the team between 2003 and 2008, as well as 15 interceptions and 11.0 sacks. The vocal and physical defensive back was furthermore named a team captain in each of his six seasons in New England and also nominated to two All-Pro squads. Following his retirement in 2009, Harrison became an analyst for NBC.
Now, in his first year as a finalist, he will receive the red jacket as the 29th member of the Patriots’ Hall of Fame. Harrison beat out fellow early-dynasty Patriots Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel in a public vote to get into the Hall.