Mike Compton lay prone on his stomach on the Superdome turf in New Orleans in the split-second before he would become a Super Bowl champion for the first time.
The bodies of fellow NFL behemoths London Fletcher and Ryan Pickett had crashed into the New England offensive lineman as they tried to get a hand on the ball that had just left the foot of Adam Vinatieri.
Compton had been a substitute on the field-goal unit, entering at right guard after teammate Joe Andruzzi’s back had begun to tighten up.
Through the tinted visor he wore and amid the sea of humanity, Compton got the confirmation he needed from an unlikely source that Vinatieri’s 48-yard field goal had split the uprights and the Patriots had just stunned the St. Louis Rams by a 20-17 count in the 36th edition of the Super Bowl.
“I saw a guy sitting in the stands between the goalposts in an old throwback early 1990s Patriots jersey jumping up and down in the end zone and that’s when I knew,” Compton said. “Everything just broke loose after that. Guys were going crazy. … I ran down the field a couple of yards and just collapsed.”
That moment – which occurred exactly 17 years ago Sunday – was easily the most memorable of a 12-year professional career for Compton, a 1988 Richlands High School graduate.
He was present for the birth of a dynasty.
The New England Patriots will play in their ninth Super Bowl in 18 seasons today when they meet the Los Angeles Rams in the big game.
Compton’s former quarterback (Tom Brady) and his old head coach (Bill Belichick) have been there for the duration and have shown no signs of slowing down.
A man who knows all too well the rigors, demands and level of excellence required to prevail at the game’s highest level can just shake his head at the sustained success.
“It’s pretty impressive,” said Compton, now 48 years old and an assistant coach at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. “I just think it shows you the type of organization the Patriots are. The model Coach Belichick brought in back in 2000 has been able to stand the test of time.”
Darryal Wilson was selected by the New England Patriots in the second round of the 1983 NFL Draft as a wide receiver out of the University of Tennessee.
The former Virginia High star played in nine games for the Patriots as a rookie, but disaster struck on Oct. 30 in Atlanta.
“I was on special teams and went down on a kickoff,” Wilson told the Bristol Herald Courier’s George Stone in 1997. “I got in on the play and I took a hard lick to my right knee. But I ran off the field and kept thinking that it would be something I could shake off. This was in the second quarter and I finished the game. We flew back into Foxboro and the next morning I got out of bed and I couldn’t move. I went to the doctor and it was torn cartilage.”
The injury never did fully heal and Wilson ultimately underwent four knee operations, ending his pro career before it even really began. The Patriots reached the Super Bowl two years later, losing to the Chicago Bears.
“Poor timing on my part,” Wilson said in that interview. “I went down and spent a lot of time with the guys before the game. It was the last time for me to see a lot of them. Sure, I regret now, not having played in the Super Bowl. That’s the goal of everyone who plays professional football, or football period. You think of that since you are a kid.”
Vince Redd from Elizabethton, Tennessee, played for the Patriots in 2008 and he would also miss out on Super Bowl glory
That’s the year when Brady went down with a knee injury in the season-opener and the Patriots failed to make the playoffs. An undrafted free agent out of Liberty University, Redd worked his way up from the practice squad to the active roster and made eight tackles in five games as a linebacker and an ace on special teams.
As for Compton, he joined the Patriots at the perfect time.
After eight so-so seasons with the Detroit Lions, he inked with New England as a free agent before the 2001 season. He immediately noticed a difference in the two organizations.
“Oh, definitely,” Compton said. “In New England it was clearly defined No. 1, who the owner is [Robert Kraft] and he’s always around, but he’s not the typical nosy owner. He just owns the team and voices his opinion. But at the end of the day everybody knew who the head man is for the New England Patriots and who makes the calls on pretty much everything.”
That would be Belichick.
“He prepares you for every little nuance and detail,” Compton said. “Practices are a lot harder than the actual games with him.”
The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Compton started every game for the Patriots that season at left guard and would switch to center in the shotgun formation. He saw firsthand the emergence of a signal-caller unlike any other.
Tom Brady was an unheralded backup in his second season that year and was thrust into the starting role when incumbent QB Drew Bledsoe was injured in the regular season’s second game.
You know the rest.
Compton’s first NFL playoff win was one he’ll never forget.
New England took a 16-13 overtime win over the Oakland Raiders in a game that was played in the snow.
“I spent eight years in a dome in Detroit, so that was a first for me,” Compton said. “That was a fun game. It actually wasn’t as cold as it looked until the end of the fourth quarter and OT and that temperature started dropping. That’s every little kid’s dream that knows he’s going to be an offensive lineman, to be put there in the mud and the snow and no sleeves.”
The next week New England clinched a Super Bowl trip with a 24-17 triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
“It was kind of surreal,” Compton said. “You were excited and you get in the locker room and your adrenaline starts dropping and calming down and for me, you start to realize, Mike Compton from Richlands, Virginia, is going to be playing in a Super Bowl and has a chance to join an elite club. As it is with most of the players in the NFL, I’m no hall of famer and am just an average hard-working blue-collar guy that rarely gets noticed and now I’m getting an opportunity like that.”
His family would also get to experience it as his three kids – Josh, Sarah and Jessica – were in New Orleans for the Super Bowl.
“Honestly, I don’t have many vivid memories of the game itself,” said Josh Compton, who was 7 years old and in the second grade. “The walk to the stadium pre-game, that stands out to me due to the amount of security in the streets. With that being the first Super Bowl after 9/11, the National Guard was set up all throughout the streets. I also remember the halftime show performed by U2 was a tribute to the victims of 9/11 with the projection of the names of all those who lost their lives that day.
“One of my dad’s former teammates at West Virginia University, Chris Gray, was one of those victims. As soon as the game was over my family and I made our way from our upper level seats down to the front row. Once my dad was able to come over I went down on the field with him and headed towards the locker room. We were met in the tunnel by Drew Bledsoe who had his son on his shoulders telling us they were not letting the kids in the locker room postgame.”
That might’ve been the only downside on a night like no other.
“You stay on that high for quite a while,” Mike Compton said. “The good thing is you stayed on it when you got the Super Bowl ring and then come July when you started getting close to training camp, you get greedier and you want another one. When you get there for the start of camp, Coach Belichick explicitly tells you that last year is over.”
Compton played three seasons in New England, winning two championship rings during his tenure with the Patriots. An injury prevented him from playing in the Super Bowl XXXVIII triumph over the Carolina Panthers.
He retired after a one-year stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2004 and soon thereafter entered the coaching profession.
The Southwest Virginia legend will always be linked to the Patriots dynasty as long as it continues. His players at UVa-Wise ask him a lot about his experiences with the team.
“I still get chills watching that final drive of Super Bowl XXXVI and Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal,” Josh Compton said. “My sisters and I have just been so blessed to experience everything we did during dad’s career. Just having the opportunity to fly to so many different places and see different parts of the country are memories we will always cherish. As I have grown older, I’ve really come to appreciate my dad’s career so much.”
It was a career that saw him play his own role as the Patriots became a powerhouse.
“It will always be a special place to me,” Mike Compton said. “We didn’t have any real big-name guys on that first championship team. [Wide receiver] Troy Brown was our biggest name guy and I don’t know how many people can tell you who we started at running back.
“We were guys who were either past their prime or just average guys that went from team to team and didn’t win a lot. But there were 53 guys on the active roster who bought into what Coach Belichick was selling at the right time and just got on a roll.”
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