On Dec. 19, 2010 Dan Connolly returned a kickoff 71 yards against the Green Bay Packers in a nationally televised game. He holds the record for the longest kick-off return by an offensive lineman in NFL history. Not bad for a guy who was much maligned throughout his career. In fact, it was probably the only time in his 10 years in the NFL that he was noticed by anyone other than a diehard fan of the New England Patriots.
On Thursday, July 16, to no one’s surprise, Connolly officially announced he is retiring from professional football and the 2014 Team Captain will now quietly fade into the sunset.
As an undrafted free agent, no one expected much from Dan. He went to Southeast Missouri State, not exactly a powerhouse looked at for NFL prospects, and signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2005. After playing in a handful of games as a rookie he missed the entire 2006 season before being released prior to the 2007 campaign.
DAN CONNOLLY: AN UNDER APPRECIATED PATRIOT
The New England Patriots signed Connolly to the practice squad 11 days later, but he was waived by the Pats on October 20, 2008. The team re-signed him to the practice squad again in October, before he was promoted to the active roster in December. It would be nice to say his career took off and he became a beloved member of the offensive line, but that would be an exaggeration. What he did become was a highly valuable member of Bill Belichick‘s team, mainly because of his flexibility. Belichick loves players who can fill multiple roles, so Connolly fit right in.
During his tenure with New England, Connolly played right guard when Stephen Neal was out 4 games (2009) then filled in at left guard (2010) when Logan Mankins sat out the first 7 games. Ultimately he played all three interior line positions for the Patriots and was a valued member of both the kick-off & punt return squads while playing 84 games in a Patriot’s uniform.
In an interview with ESPN’s Mike Reiss Connolly stated “With my football career coming to a close I am grateful for the opportunity given to me by the Kraft family and Coach Belichick”…“It is an honor to have been part of such a great organization for the past eight seasons.”
Going out healthy and on a high note after capturing his first Super Bowl ring meant a lot to him, as he stated in the same interview “It’s important to me to leave the game healthy,” Connolly said. “I’m able to be here for my kids and walk away on my own terms. I feel like I got everything I could out of football in playing 10 years, winning a Super Bowl, and playing alongside some truly great players.”
So long Big Guy, you will be missed when the season rolls around.
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