In Appreciation of Matt Light

matt lightMatt Light clears the way for Wes Welker. (Photo by JDN on Flickr.)

Paul Pierce has been with the Celtics since 1998, Kevin Faulk joined the Pats in 1999, and Tom Brady came on board the next year. By my count, that makes Matt Light, drafted by the Patriots in 2001, the fourth-longest tenured athlete in Boston. Today, though, Light officially hangs ’em up after 11 stalwart seasons (you have to call an offensive lineman’s seasons “stalwart,” right?) as the Patriots’ starting left tackle.

Not to be overly simplistic, but Light had a really, really good career. He started in five Super Bowls (one as a rookie) and won three. He was named to three Pro-Bowl teams and in 2007 was honored as a first-team All-Pro. Most importantly, more often than not, he kept Tom Brady on his feat. I’ll always particularly remember his play in Super Bowl XXXVI, when, as a rookie, he was rock-solid, despite having all the pressure in the world on him (the Rams had just one sack on Brady that day). In a way, Light’s the quintessential player of the Bill Belichick era: he just did his job.

It’s fitting, because all the way back in the draft of 2001, Light was acquired in the most Belichickian way possible. Starting out with the 39th pick, the Patriots traded down to 50, where they expected to take Light. But then, things got interesting. The Herald reported at the time:

Scott Pioli, the Patriots assistant director of player personnel, had been on the phone to Light earlier in the day. Before the first round was over he had assured him that the Patriots planned to take him with the second-round pick (50th overall) they had obtained in a trade with the Steelers.

“Then about the 44th or 45th pick, somebody from the Jets—I can’t remember his name—called on my cell phone,” said Light. “He told me they were very interested, and they had the 49th pick.”

Light was still in conversation with the Jets representative when another phone rang. It was Pioli, calling back to reaffirm the team’s commitment to taking him at No. 50.

“I had given Scott a different number, just by chance,” reported Light. “I said, ‘If you can’t reach me at this number, try this other phone.’ So when he did I told him another team was on the line.”

When Pioli asked who the other team was, Light, whose naivete in matters of NFL skullduggery is refreshing, told him it was the Jets.

“Don’t hang up this phone,” Pioli ordered him. “And don’t tell (the Jets) who’s on the other line. I’ll get right back to you.”

“It was pretty interesting,” said Light. “I was sitting there literally holding one phone to each ear, trying to talk back and forth.

“People were actually snapping pictures while all of this was going on, they thought it was so funny. They didn’t really KNOW what was going on, of course, and I couldn’t relate it to them.”

Within a matter of minutes Pioli was back on the line. The Patriots had swung a deal with the Lions, moving up two places to select Light.

What did Light tell the Jets?

“Goodbye?” he shrugged.

If not for a little good luck, and Pioli and Belichick’s cunning, Light could easily have been a Jet. That would have been a strange alternate football universe, and one where, it’s no stretch to say, the Patriots may not have three Super Bowl banners hanging in Gillette Stadium.