Raymond Clayborn isn’t much for small talk.
Asked on Wednesday for his reaction to the news that he had been nominated as a finalist for the Patriots Hall of Fame, the former New England cornerback didn’t mince words.
“Why did it take so long?” he replied.
Clayborn could very well have a point. The three-time Pro Bowler played with the Patriots from 1977 through 1989. The first-round pick out of Texas finished his career with a franchise-leading 36 interceptions (tied with Ty Law) for 555 yards for a 15.4 yard per interception average. Clayborn also returned 57 kickoffs for 1,538 yards and three touchdowns — as a rookie in 1977, Clayborn returned 28 kickoffs for 869 yards and led the NFL with a 31.0-yard return average and returned three kicks for touchdowns, both of which remain franchise records.
Clayborn, Law and Bill Parcells are this year’s three finalists for the Hall of Fame. (Fans can vote on the finalists for the next month at Patriots.com.)
“I’m really honored with the people that I’m a finalist with, the two other gentlemen — Bill Parcells and Ty Law,” Clayborn said. “Bill’s already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and I believe Ty will definitely get there one day himself.”
Clayborn and Law are often linked as the two best corners in franchise history, and are tied atop the franchise list for most career interceptions. While he remains competitive, Clayborn acknowledges Law would likely sit in first place alone if he hadn’t missed the bulk of the 2004 season because of injury.
“Realistically looking at it, Ty got hurt and he did it. I think it was the (fifth) game of the season or something and the next year, he wasn’t with the team,” Clayborn said. “So quite frankly speaking, Ty would have broken the record if he hadn’t been injured and to hold the record with him is an honor. I really truly believe he’s one of the better cornerbacks to play during his time.”
Here are some highlights from the rest of his Q&A with the media:
Can you take us back to the 1985 AFC Championship Game against the Dolphins and what that game meant to you guys in the locker room?
Well, having done it in Miami, a place that I believe most of us, I believe all of us on the team had never won there before, a regular season game, let alone a playoff game. So having to go down there and we won the AFC Championship down there, it was really special. I think we enjoyed it so much, we forgot about the next game, the Super Bowl. We had a great, great team that season.
For those who didn’t get a chance to watch you play, how would you describe your style of play?
I definitely preferred man-to-man (coverage). I wanted to challenge them on every play whether it be a run or pass, because most of the time when it was a run play and you’re right up on them, they’re going to block you, so I had to get aggressive with them and I tried to do the same in pass coverage, try to force them off what they wanted to do and try to guide them into what I wanted them to do, speaking of wide receivers.
Do you see similarities between the way you played the game and the way Ty played it?
Yeah, a lot of them. Ty was aggressive at times, but just being able to lock down a particular guy and cover your side of the field, I think Ty was very capable of doing that.
You played on some really good teams and some inconsistent teams. When you look at the franchise with its consistency now and the new stadium, can you believe these are the same Patriots you played for?
Yeah, we had good teams, we just couldn’t get in that category of perennial playoff teams, but it was always something that happened and I think one of the major things was when Daryl Stingley was injured in 1978. We were coming off missing the playoffs by one game in ‘77 and we came back and we were just loaded. Everybody was just focused and to have Daryl get hurt that second preseason game out there at Alameda County [Stadium] in Oakland back there in ‘78 was really something that just hit us really hard. I think that kind of lingered on for a couple years because we had the talent to go and win a Super Bowl at that particular time ‘ the ‘77, ‘78, ‘79 teams. But I think that was something that really kind of hit us right in our heart, to see him like that. He was such a leader of our team, someone you looked up to that worked hard every day. He was even a coach on the field, like he was beating me on a pass pattern and he was telling me, ‘Hey, that’s the second time I beat you on that. You can’t let that happen again.’ That’s the type of person Daryl Stingley was and it really hurt us tremendously and I think everyone on the team still feels like this.
Going back to 1976 and ‘77. First Mike Haynes and Tim Fox come into the league in ‘76 as first-round picks. The following year you come into the league for the Patriots. Can you share your thoughts about that secondary nucleus coming into the league at the same time and how talented the group was and how special was that?
You have to remember that when I came out of Texas I really wasn’t versed in playing man-to man, even zone for that matter. We played an old, traditional Cover 3. It was a running-type conference, the style for this conference. They didn’t have the intricate passing games that they had in the pros. So, I actually didn’t start my first year. I played behind Bobby Howard, who was an 11-year veteran in 1977 when I came up here with the Patriots. He was a technician. He was a guy that was a teacher and they told me to follow him, to watch him and the things that he did. I think Mike would feel the same way too. Bobby Howard was a guy that you could look back on and say he helped us out tremendously with confidence, technique and fundamentals of the game.
For those who followed you closely as a player, what would you tell them you’re up to now? Where are you living? What are you up to?
Well, I lived the last 13 years or so in a suburb outside of Houston, Texas, then Katy, Texas. Right now, I am recovering from prostate surgery. I had prostate cancer that I had surgery on November 24. So right now being retired, I’m basically recovering from this surgery. At this particular time, I have a daughter who is a freshman at Howard University up in Washington, D.C. I have a 15-year-old freshman at Cinco Ranch High School in Katy, Texas. And I have an older daughter, 28, and a 3-year-old grandson. Plus my wife [laughs].
I hope everything is going well with your recovery.
Yeah, it’s a process. It will be six months in on May 24. It will be a milestone and I hope things start to get better, but I’m hanging in there.