We know plenty about Vince Wilfork. He was dominant on the field. He loves cooking ribs, and we know he partnered up with Kingsford to announce his retirement this week after 13 years in the league. But during his retirement ceremony with the Patriots, we learned some new things about the good-natured big guy.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft shared the story of Wilfork’s draft day, when Bill Belichick was dumbfounded that the talented defensive tackle slipped all the way to New England at No. 21. Kraft said Wilfork, whose playing weight was around 325 pounds, was so agile that he was “like a ballet dancer.”
Wilfork spent the first 11 seasons of his career with the Patriots, and on Wednesday, he signed a one-day contract to retire with New England. During the ceremony, both Kraft and Belichick had plenty to say about Wilfork as a player and as a person.
Family comes first for Wilfork
The first time Kraft met Wilfork was right after the 2004 draft. Kraft welcomed him and tight end Ben Watson, the team’s first-round picks from that draft, into his office. He noticed that Wilfork was wearing a gold chain and medallion and asked him about it.
The medallion bore pictures of Wilfork’s parents, David and Barbara Wilfork. Both passed away while Wilfork was playing at the University of Miami.
Wilfork quickly became a part of the Patriots family and developed a close relationship with Kraft and his wife, Myra. After each game, Kraft said Wilfork would find Myra and give her a kiss on the cheek. Then Wilfork would kiss Kraft on the cheek, too, before leaving the field.
When Myra was fighting cancer and her health started to deteriorate, Wilfork had a gift for Kraft. It was a medallion, like the one Wilfork wore in remembrance of his mother and father. Kraft’s necklace featured his favorite wedding photo with Myra. The inscription read “Cherish love.”
Kraft said he isn’t a big jewelry guy, but he wore that medallion every day during her chemotherapy treatments and for 11 months after his wife passed away in July 2011. And Myra was confused by it.
“Are you trying to be like Rick Ross?” Myra asked, according to Kraft.
But he wore it anyway, because it made him feel better.
At the Patriots’ first game after Myra’s death, Wilfork didn’t change his postgame tradition. He went to Kraft after the game and gave the Patriots owner a kiss on both cheeks, saying one was “for Mama.”
Wilfork’s wife is as tough as he is
Belichick gives out ironman shirts at the end of training camp to players who don’t miss any part of the practices over that period. It’s a tall order, and very few players earn them. It’s an honor to receive one.
Bianca, Wilfork’s wife, has one.
She gave birth to their son, David, during training camp in 2009. Two days later, she was back out there watching practice. That’s no small feat.
“She’s made more practices than a quarter of our team has,” Belichick said.
So Bianca got an ironman shirt for her dedication. Belichick said he gave her one, “because I had to.”
Wilfork never missed a weigh-in
Vince Wilfork is a big guy. He’s so big, in fact, that when he joined Kraft and his family on a trip to Florence, Italy, after Myra’s death, he tried to get a custom leather jacket made. The tailor was blown away because he had never seen a man that size, Kraft said. The custom jackets were a fixed price, and the tailor said he couldn’t afford to make one at that price for Wilfork.
But even though he’s a massive person at 6’2 and 325 pounds, Belichick said Wilfork never once missed a conditioning test and he was never fined for being overweight.
Belichick was never surprised by the conditioning tests. He said Wilfork could always run. But the weigh-ins, that was another story.
“Yeah, I never missed a weigh-in,” Wilfork confirmed. “Catch me 30 minutes later, it might be a different story.”
Part of the motivation for that was Wilfork’s respect for Belichick.
“He forced us to be great,” Wilfork said.
“We’re going to win Super Bowl 49. We’re going to win because we have chemistry,” Wilfork told his teammates. And they did.
He’s grateful to his teammates for believing him.
“So thank you guys for trusting me and proving we were champs,” Wilfork said.
Wilfork knew from a very young age that he wanted to play in the NFL.
“I was 4 when I told my father I wanted to become who I am,” Wilfork said.
His only regret is that his parents didn’t get to see him fulfill that dream. But as his storied career comes to its end, it’s safe to say that the Wilforks would be proud.