Five days after announcing his retirement from football, James White received his sendoff from the New England Patriots. The team organized a ceremony on Tuesday evening that saw his family as well as several of his former coaches and teammates present.
It was a fitting farewell. White had spent eight years with the franchise and developed into one of the most reliable players on the field as well as a well-respected leader in the locker room. A three-time Super Bowl champion, he became a pillar of the Patriots’ second-era dynasty and will one day make his way into the team Hall of Fame.
Tuesday was therefore a moment to honor him, and his journey in pro football.
“It’s certainly been an honor to coach you, James,” head coach Bill Belichick said about White. “First exposure, really, was back in the draft process, in the Indy Combine. Those numbers weren’t too impressive. Weren’t big, weren’t fast, didn’t jump high, et cetera. But those numbers don’t measure is intelligence, toughness, heart, teammate, dependability, and longevity. That overrode all of whatever the other ones were.
“Great hands, great quickness, great instinct for the game. Played the best games at the biggest times, the most critical situations. Third down, two minutes, championship games, Super Bowl games. The poise and competitiveness that came out in those times were truly exceptional.”
Belichick went on to speak about White’s role as a team captain, and that he never lost sight of what was important to win. He also added that the team’s championship banners would not be as plentiful without his contributions over the years.
Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft both sang White’s praises. The 30-year-old himself, meanwhile, was quick to return the pleasantries.
“I’m extremely grateful to have played for such a great organization, great owner, great coach for eight years. That’s not very common in this league to sustain that much longevity in one organization,” he said.
“I’m extremely grateful, especially for these last few months, getting the opportunity to come back here. Most coaches and owners probably wouldn’t have given me a chance having had to deal with the injury that I have. I’m really extremely grateful for the opportunity.”
Originally a fourth-round draft pick by the Patriots in 2014, White took over as the team’s receiving back the following season. By his third year he was one of the best players in the league in this role, being a crucial part of New England’s comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
White continued his consistently strong play for the next few years, winning another championship ring to cap off the 2018 season. However, his 2021 campaign was cut short due to injury: White went down in September with a hip subluxation that forced him to undergo surgery and miss the remainder of the year.
After re-signing with the Patriots, he tried a comeback this offseason. Eventually, however, White realized that he would not be able to return to his prior levels of play.
“I’d probably say a couple weeks before training camp I fell like I kind of hit a plateau. ‘This is what my body was going to feel like from here on out playing football,’” he said. “Do I think I could have gone out there and played? Probably.
“I don’t know how good I’d have looked, but I didn’t want to put myself in a position and I didn’t want to put the team in a position as well for them to be expecting a certain type of player, a certain type of guy they’re used to seeing for me to go out there, and not to be that guy. It’d be hard for me, and I knew it would be hard for them to see. So I had to make the best decision for myself and my family.”
White’s season-ending injury was not the only hardship he recently experienced. On year earlier, his parents were involved in a car crash that left his father dead and his mother critically injured.
His mother, Lisa, eventually recovered and was present for her son’s retirement ceremony. Both she and her late husband, Tyrone, were mentioned as well in one of the most emotional moments of the half-hour event.
“I’m extremely grateful to my parents, for the way they raised me,” White said while holding back tears. “I just hope I made them proud and will continue to make them proud.”