(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Ben Coates interview fast-forward to 24:15 of the attachment above)
If former Patriots’ tight end Ben Coates was Gronk before Gronk, how come nobody’s pushing him for Canton when everyone’s pushing Gronk?
Ben Coates would like an answer.
Because when he retired after the 2000 season he was the fourth all-time leading receiver at tight end in NFL history, with the three ahead of him (Ozzie Newsome, Shannon Sharpe and Kellen Winslow) named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But Coates wasn’t. In fact, he’s never been a Hall-of-Fame semifinalist.
And that’s puzzling. Because, like Gronk, he was a true tight end – a blocker and a receiver. Like Gronk, he was chosen to five Pro Bowls and multiple All-Pro units, including two first-team selections. And he was named to the 1990s’ all-decade team as its first-string tight end.
So why no love for Ben Coates?
“I wonder why,” he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “I’m like: ‘What is going on? I’m (an all) decade tight end. Been to five Pro Bowls. Two-time All-Pro (first team). I’m like, ‘Wow, is it because I didn’t win in New England. I mean, what is it?’
“But at some point after a couple of years, you say, ‘You know what: If you go, you go. If you don’t (you don’t). Hey, everybody knew who Coates was in the ‘90s when he retired. Fourth all-time in receiving. It’s like you pushed up under the rug, You pick the rug up, and you get swept under the rug for like 30, 40 years.”
It hasn’t been that long for Ben Coates. He retired after the 2000 season when he won a Super Bowl with Baltimore. But it’s been long enough that few people think of him when they debate the best tight ends of the past 25 years. There will be Tony Gonzalez. And Jason Witten. And Antonio Gates.
And, of course, Rob Gronkowski. But no Ben Coates.
“It’s like we got guys with better stats. (The relevant) stat is when you played in your era … when you played compared to your peers when you played and what kind of stats they had. Because I can look at (Mike) Ditka. I can look at (John) Mackey. I mean, my stats are better than theirs. But it’s the era that they played, and those guys won Super Bowls in the era when they played. That’s the only thing I can think of.”
In the nine years (1991-99) that Coates was with the Patriots, they had a modicum of success. Yes, they went to the playoffs four times and the Super Bowl once. But they didn’t win a league championship, and their overall record 67-77 was little more than mediocre.
Had they won their Super Bowl XXXI date with Green Bay, Coates believes he’d be in a Hall-of-Fame conversation. But they didn’t. So he’s not.
“I really do think that’s a big part of it,” he said, “considering that it was an upstart team, and we had guys and everybody’s talking about longevity. But, you know, you’re playing in New England. It’s cold. It’s frigid. You’re getting tackled by three or four guys, (and) you’re still dragging them.
“It should count for something. But it’s like when (selectors) go to vote, it’s: ‘Oh, he did this. Ah, it’s not enough. He didn’t do more.’ I mean, I’m not a receiver like Shannon Sharpe. I’m not going to cut somebody. I’m going to block you.
“You say block, (I) block. You say block for Curtis Martin, OK. Block for Terry Glenn. Block for whoever it is that is going to catch the ball.
“Sometimes it becomes a little overwhelming. But, hey, I played to have fun. The accolades and everything came. That’s great. I’m up there with the Winslows, the Newsomes and the Sharpes. Now, being number four, that’s a great accomplishment for myself and everybody that knew me.”