The New England Patriots had a busy day on Thursday. They played their preseason opener against the New York Giants. They finally unveiled the jersey numbers for their rookie class. And, before all of that, they saw veteran running back James White announce his retirement from the game.
A fourth-round draft pick in 2014, White developed into a well-respected player and core member of New England’s offense. Over his eight seasons in the league, he appeared in a combined 107 regular season and playoff games as one of the best and most reliable receiving backs in the entire league.
Additionally, he earned three Super Bowl rings and was named to the Patriots’ Team of the Decade for the 2010s.
White is leaving behind an impressive legacy. He also left quite the impression on his former teammates, as their statements following the preseason game versus the Giants show.
“We’re going miss him,” said quarterback Brian Hoyer. “For me, having known James all the way back to 2017, I can honestly say the most dependable teammate I’ve ever had. You never questioned James’ work ethic, his leadership, even though he was a little quiet. We all loved him, and I want to wish him well in the next chapter and just say how much I respect him and how fortunate I feel to have played with him. He’s truly a special player.”
Hoyer and White spent the better parts of five years together, a significant amount of time in the NFL. But even those who shared a locker room with him relatively briefly were positively impacted by his presence.
“I just want to give James White his flowers,” rookie wide receiver Tyquan Thornton said. “Just being in the meeting rooms with him, he’s a great man and you know, always kept a smile on his face. Sad to say that I didn’t get a chance to compete with him on the football field but I just learned so much from him in the meeting rooms. He’s a great dude, always had a smile on his face and brought good energy to the team.”
Fellow rookie Bailey Zappe echoed those remarks.
“I want to congratulate James White on an amazing career and his retirement,” the fourth-round quarterback said. “I’ve only been here for four or five months and only known him for that long, and just to be able to be in the facility with him, be able to see how he carried himself and kind of learned many things from him and how he prepared. It’s really something I’m going to try to carry on.”
Whereas Thornton and Zappe have spent minimal time with White, and never actually got to suit up with him for a game, others have followed him closely throughout his career.
Take safety and fellow team captain Devin McCourty. Arriving in New England four years before White, McCourty was able to get an up-close look on the running back’s development from redshirt Day 3 draft pick, to Super Bowl hero, to one of the most respected players in the organization.
“I think the biggest thing for me with James is — you don’t say this too often about people — he’s one of those guys that one day if my daughter said, ‘I’m going to bring home a guy like James White,’ I’d be excited,” McCourty said.
“To come in here and not play much — really not at all — as a rookie, and worked his butt off. I know Josh McDaniels used to always say, ‘If I had 11 James White’s it’d be perfect, because I could tell him something in training camp and it might not show up for 12 weeks, but when it shows up in the game, he’s going to be on it.’ Always a bittersweet feeling, to have a guy like that not in the locker room. We know the impact it has.”
The Patriots did get a taste of life without White last season. In Week 3, he suffered a hip subluxation that ended his 2021 campaign and later required surgery.
White re-signed with New England earlier this offseason, trying to attempt a comeback. However, he opened training camp on the physically unable to perform list and was never activated before his decision to step away.
“We knew what it was like last year when he went through surgery and not having him around all the time, the impact on the team,” McCourty said. “I think now you’re happy for him, especially as an older guy, knowing what we put our bodies through and how hard that decision is, to come to that. So, you’re happy, but a little sad that you won’t have him in the locker room constantly.
“Having a guy, for me, that I’ve sat in captains’ meetings on Fridays with over the last couple of years. Just being able to talk football, talk about leadership, talk about how we win football games around here. ... It was obviously an honor to play with him and hopefully we see him around here, if he wants to come coach some day I’m sure we would love to see him in the locker room.”
McCourty was not the only veteran to play alongside White throughout his career in the NFL. Fellow captain Matthew Slater also did, and he too sang the running back’s praises on Thursday.
“I’ve had the good fortune of being around him for a long time,” Slater said. “When I think about James White, I think he left a tremendous, tremendous legacy here, not just for what he did on the field. When I think about all the things that we hope to embody here, all the things that I hope to embody as a dad, as a husband, as a teammate, as a friend, James embodies all of that.
“It’s tough to say goodbye to someone like that. We’re not saying goodbye, but as he transitions into the next phase of his life I certainly want to one of the first people to celebrate the legacy James White left here. He’s a true Patriot, but he’s a better human being and we’re all better for having been around him.”
Whether due to their shared experiences or status among team captains, McCourty and Slater were both close to White. The same can also be said about Damien Harris, who spent the last three years sharing a position room with the now-retired veteran.
“James is obviously just a special guy. Special teammate, special leader,” Harris said on Thursday. “I feel very fortunate to have spent the time — even though it was a short amount of time — being able to learn from him and understand how to truly be a professional football player and how to play in this league. As skilled as he was, I think teaching me how to be a pro, and the ins and outs, and what makes people successful in this league are the things that I’ll take from James the most.
“We have our memories, and James has a lifetime of memories in this organization and playing this game. So, I just feel very fortunate to have spent a little bit of time with him and had the opportunity to learn from him and grow as a player and develop in this league.”
As far as White’s legacy is concerned, there are no questions in Harris’ mind.
“James is a once-in-a-lifetime player, once in a lifetime teammate,” he said. “James isn’t somebody that you can replace. But, unfortunately, the show goes on. So, we’re just going to have to keep doing what we do and move forward. We wish James was still here, but we wish him the best in the next chapter of his life.”