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Vince Wilfork enters Patriots Hall of Fame in powerful fashion: ‘For 13 years, I played hurt, with a heavy heart’

Related: Watch: Vince Wilfork gets inducted into Patriots Hall of Fame

NFL: SEP 24 Vince Wilfork Induction Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Vince Wilfork is officially the 32nd member of the New England Patriots Hall of Fame, receiving the honor in a ceremony outside Gillette Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The entire event was a celebration of his outstanding career in New England, with praise being showered upon him from all sides.

Team owner Robert Kraft sang his praises, as did head coach Bill Belichick. Former teammates of his were on hand, as were other franchise legends — all to honor the man of the hour.

Wilfork himself, however, did not just nod along in agreement. Yes, he did claim that drafting him was one of the best decisions ever made by Kraft and Belichick, but the overall tone of his induction speech was a much more vulnerable yet immensely powerful one.

“To understand who I am, you have to understand my journey,” Wilfork said at the beginning of his speech.

He continued by talking about his upbringing, and the challenges he and his family went through. From assisting his father during his battle with diabetes, to carrying his dead grandmother in his arms, to seeing relatives abandon his family, he recalled his experiences and the impact they had on him.

“It was holidays I didn’t have, a family I didn’t have. We had to figure out how we were going to eat and survive, as a kid,” he said. “But through all of that, I stayed true to who I was.”

Part of who he was was an athlete, despite his massive build even at that age. Wilfork, who had only played for a year as 5-year-old before moving to basketball, picked up the sport again as he entered high school.

Along the way, his father, who Wilfork referred to as “probably the toughest man I’ve ever known” continued to support him by showing up to every practice despite his deteriorating health. He recalled helping him out of the car, rolling him to the practice field in a wheelchair and back.

“That’s what I did daily, because my father never wanted to miss an opportunity to see his son play football,” he said. “I know how much it meant to my father to be there. I know how much love he had for football. My mom loved it too ... she supported me, but my father, why I’m built the way that I built.

“I had to survive. I had to learn how to survive at a very young age. No one ever gave me anything. Nothing. Everything I got, I worked for. I worked for. I worked for. I grind, I put the time in. I never got any handouts, ever.”

Wilfork’s father and mother died with half a year of one another while he was playing at the University of Miami. At that point, he quit football because his source of motivation and inspiration — helping them out of their struggle — was suddenly gone.

However, his position coach at Miami convinced Wilfork to continue his career. It eventually led to him turning pro and getting drafted by the Patriots.

“But at the same time, I was still missing my mother and father,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times I left the practice field or left a game torn up inside. I get a chance to walk past my teammates and have their families, their mom, their dad, their brothers, their sisters, their wives, they have a good time. And I’m hurting inside because I don’t have my mother and father here to enjoy this life with me. And I felt that way for 13 years.

“I played 13 years in the league, so for 13 years I had to battle that. For 13 years I put a smile on when I was really hurting, but nobody would ever know. But I sit here today and I tell you: for 13 years, I played hurt, with a heavy heart. I played with a broken heart. I played with a hole in my heart for 13 years, and that’s just in the NFL. When you look at who I am as a person, what I’ve accomplished, you guys are not fans to me, you are my family.”

A tearful Wilfork concluded his speech by praising the entire Patriots organization and its fans, and in particular his teammates.

“I really, really appreciate the love that you’ve always shown me and the memories you gave me,” he said. “We all did this together. I’m wearing this jacket, but this jacket is for all of us.”