Godspeed, Chuck Fairbanks
For New England Patriots fans, Chuck Fairbanks was the man that finally brought respectability to the fledgling franchise, leading them out of the dark ages and into football prominence with his innovative schemes and deft drafting…
…and that’s how fans want to remember Fairbanks, who succumbed to Brain Cancer on Tuesday at the age of 79.
At least, that’s how I wish to remember him. I don’t care about the contract difficulties or any of the off-the-field stuff. All I care about is how his Patriots teams turned an impressionable 12 year old kid into a life long fan not only of the team, but of the brand of football that he endorsed.
Big players, steamrolling opponents, imposing their will…the running game, stopping the run, the 3-4 defense and, just as importantly, trading Jim Plunket to the 49ers for two 1976 first round draft picks and a first and second rounder in 1977, selections that helped bring the franchise stability and respectability.
His first draft with the team in 1973 built a solid foundation for his future teams and set a standard for decades to come. Armed with three 1st round draft picks, Fairbanks went for John Hannah, Sam “Bam” Cunningham and Daryl Stingley, then found defensive Gem “Sugar Bear” Ray Hamilton in the 14th round.
1974 saw Steve Nelson and Andy Johnson, ’75 Russ Francis in the 1st round and tough as nails quarterback Steve Grogan in the fifth, and his drafts with the picks from the Plunket trade brought in Mike Haynes, Pete Brock and Tim Fox in ’76 and Raymond Clayborn, Stanley Morgan and Horace Ivory in 1977.
He is the man the we remember going ape on the Patriots sidelines as the ’76 playoff game against the Oakland Raiders turned south late in the game, as referee Ben Drieth denied the Patriots victory with several very questionable calls…a Patriots team that current New England coach Bill Belichick opines as the most talented team in franchise history.
His innovation led to many of the same established formations still in use today and is credited by Belichick, Bill Parcells and Bill Cowher as having influenced the way that they approached the game, particularly on defense.
There were the controversies, the breached contracts and ugly words, but this isn’t the proper forum for that nonsense. But it is the proper vehicle for is to show our appreciation for a man that coached the Patriots for six seasons and brought respectability to the franchise after 15 long years of futility…
…and made all the difference for a 12 year old kid, who found his coaching style and powerfully built teams the cornerstone for my ideals and opinions.
Without Fairbanks and his innovation, football would not have appealed to me as it did and I may not have even been a Patriots fan. Fairbanks did it right, both on the field and in the war room, and I owe much of my football knowledge and childhood idolatry to him…
…so today is a sad day indeed.