FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In his fourth year as a finalist for the New England Patriots Hall of Fame, cornerback Raymond Clayborn braced himself for disappointment. Instead, he received the unexpected news that he had been voted in by fans as the 2017 inductee.
“I keep reverting back to the Super Bowls and previous years when I was a candidate; it always had gone to one of those guys. I thought the same thing was going to happen again,” Clayborn said Monday upon the official announcement. “I was totally surprised and very happy.”
Clayborn’s initial reaction was captured by the Patriots’ official website, which had cameras on hand at Clayborn’s home when owner Robert Kraft called with the news.
At first, Clayborn couldn’t believe it.
“I had to ask him, 'Are you telling me that I won the vote against Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel?'” he recalled.
Indeed, Clayborn was the top vote-getter, with Kraft telling him he received over 40 percent of the vote. That meant Seymour and Vrabel split the remaining 60 percent in one of the closer Hall votes in recent years.
Clayborn, 62, retired from his post-playing career work seven years ago and lives in Katy, Texas. He talked to reporters Monday about his three children and grandson, and how this has been a nice stretch for him, with his middle daughter graduating from Howard University and his son, Raymond Jr., graduating from high school and accepting a football scholarship to Texas Southern University.
Clayborn was refreshingly honest when he said he and his family “thought that I should have gone in a lot sooner than I have.”
Clayborn was a three-time Pro Bowler (1983, 1985, 1986) during a 13-year Patriots career that extended from 1977 through 1989. He was drafted by the Patriots in the first round (16th overall) out of Texas in 1977, and set a franchise record with 36 career interceptions, a mark that Ty Law tied in 2004 and remains today.
“Ty’s last year with the Patriots , he was injured after he tied it. I believe he would have broken it if he hadn’t been injured,” Clayborn acknowledged. “I look at him officially as the guy that holds that record, because if he hadn’t of been injured, he would’ve gotten it. But I am proud of being tied with Ty Law, who I think belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Clayborn, who described his favorite style of play as being close to the line of scrimmage, also made his mark as a kickoff returner. As a rookie, he led the NFL with a 31.0-yard return average and returned three kicks for touchdowns, both of which remain franchise records. He is one of just 20 NFL players since the 1970 merger to finish a season with a better-than-30-yard average on kickoff returns (minimum 20 returns) and is the only Patriots player to accomplish the feat.
“I was fortunate to be a season ticket holder during Raymond’s entire Patriots career,” Kraft said. “For the first half of his career, he teamed with Michael Haynes to form one of the best corner tandems in league history. Throughout his career, Raymond was a physical shutdown corner.
“One of my favorite memories was watching the 1985 team advance to the Super Bowl after Raymond helped us break the Orange Bowl curse when he stymied future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino with a dominant performance against Pro Bowl receivers Mark Duper and Mark Clayton. Raymond had six passes defensed and an interception to help us claim our first conference title. It was the greatest upset victory in franchise history at the time and one the entire New England region celebrated.
“It is a well-deserved honor, and I look forward to presenting him his Hall of Fame jacket.”