2001 began as the second year of Bill Belichick's New England Patriots rebuild. Few people ever expected them to take Super Bowl XXXVI from the St. Louis Rams at the end of the season, but the Pats got a major head start in the draft that season when they selected the team's best linemen on each side of the ball for the next decade. Defensive tackle Richard Seymour came from Georgia with the sixth overall pick, and then, with the 48th overall pick in the second round, Matt Light of Purdue was the chosen one.
After 153 games started, three Pro Bowls, one first-team All-Pro selection, three Super Bowl rings, and his part in the only perfect 16-game regular season on NFL history, Light called it a career on Monday. He did so with Belichick, team owner Robert Kraft and several teammates in attendance -- and he began his press conference by capping on his coach in a way that few current or former Patriots would dare.
"There's been a lot swirling around in my head," Light said. "First thing, is that I had a little bit of difficulty in my career in New England, basically because I've had trouble staying awake during meetings the moment someone starts talking. The minute Bill began speaking, [my son] William was knocked out the first second. You keep that one long enough, you'll see this back at one of your meetings."
From there, Light became far more serious and emotional. "To coach Belichick for all the demanding, just hard-headedness and genius that you bring to each and every day, and even though we've had some differences in the way we look at things," he said. "All the fun, I can't begin to tell you how great this has been and for taking that chance on me, and for sticking with me on some of the rough times, the sickness, injuries, many issues, I appreciate it. It meant a lot for me and my family to have this experience.
"There are few things that have brought me more joy over my carer than to be a part of the rebuilding of the Patriots organization. Maybe that's the wrong way to describe it. In my 11 years here, I witnessed rookies that came in and headed into the End Zone [hotel], of all places, for their brief stint during minicamp and passing camp. If you've ever been to the End Zone, it was a horrible place, you know why. But we've come a long way from the times of the old [Foxboro] Stadium, the End Zone, the old practice fields, everything about the 2001 season, being as incredible as it was, especially as a rookie that couldn't make it to meetings on time. Pretty much I didn't do anything right, as Dante [Scarnecchia] said, I didn't know if the ball was pumped or stuff. I've come a long way, an incredible distance. But to be a part of it, I'm truly honored and blessed."
Light turned his attention to Kraft, the owner beloved by everyone who's played for the Pats through the last decade.
"When I think of Mr. Kraft and his entire family, and I think about all the work and how they dedicated themselves to making this team better, to making each individual player better, not just on the field, although it's a big part of it, it's very little of what this organization stands for. Sure, it's about excellence and performance at highest level, having success, winning. We're here to win. That was always a big part of every day.
"But the Kraft family and the legacy that they leave behind through the players in that locker room and all the people that they touched through their business, is what I will always remember, what I am always most grateful for. To set the bar, that's a big part of my life. To grow up in that environment, experience all that. That's what made that journey absolutely incredible. I thank you, my family thanks you. I script a lot of things, trust me, but nothing could have ever ended up like this."
Light then spoke to his partners in that unique fraternity -- the "big uglies" who perform their most important and often-unheralded work on the offensive line. "For the guys that I've been in the trenches with for a long time -- Brady, [Dan] Koppen, [Logan] Mankins, I'm not leaving out the rest of you for any good reason, the guys who've been around me the longest who truly know me, Kevin Faulk, you guys have put a real stamp on me as person, you have held me accountable to things I've done or said, pushed me each and every step, believed in me.
"To be honest, for a guy who doesn't have a lot of self-confidence -- it looks like I do, because I'm so dapper -- I play the game, but ultimately my confidence came through strength, it's meant a lot to me. Goofing around, finding some way to upset [offensive line coach] Dante Scarnecchia and some other guy in the organization. If you ever need any guidance, you know I'm just sitting here and ready. Thank you all, you were incredible to be with."
As far as Belichick was concerned, it was he and those in the organization who were fortunate to be in Light's company.
"He's been a tremendous player for us, a tremendous resource for our team," Belichick said. "He's given great leadership as well as great performance. A lot of levity that we probably need around here. Most of which I'll miss, but not all of it. Matt, congratulations on a tremendous career. You and your family have meant a lot to this team and the community up here. Nobody was more consistent, more dependable, to count on, to coach than this guy has been the last 11 years. Thank God we were able to move him back to left tackle. Thank you for putting up with me."
Light also addressed a subject on the minds of most NFL players these days -- getting out of the game on time, and living the rest of your life healthy and whole.
"You know, I've got a daughter that's 10 [years old], I've got two boys who are knuckleheads and they need a lot of guidance a lot more time. I think that one of the things that was ever apparent over the last couple seasons, it takes a lot longer to recover the older you get. Really during that six, seven, eight months of that football season, it really becomes very difficult to give much outside of a 'hi' or 'goodnight' or 'good morning.' That's always been really important."