When Chiefs’ linebacker Mike Vrabel retired after 14 seasons in the NFL, many Chiefs’ fans seemed to blow it off, saying Vrabel would not have been a starter. It seemed like the Chiefs had lost very little with Vrabel‘s retirement.
What the league lost with Vrabel‘s retirement, though, was a player who could make that big play on both sides of the ball. A player who could unite a defense and lead them to victory. Simply put, one of the best linebackers of this era.
Named to the Sports Illustrated All-Decade team of the 2000’s as well as the New England Patriots 50th anniversary team, Vrabel proved himself to be a force all around the field.
The role he left in Kansas City, though, left Vrabel as much more of a coach for the younger players than the defensive star he had once been.
One team’s loss is another’s gain, though, with Vrabel returning to his alma mater Ohio State to serve as linebackers coach.
Now that his playing career has ended, we should look back at some of the biggest moments of Mike Vrabel’s career.
After finishing 11-5 in the regular season, the 1997 Pittsburgh Steelers went on to face the New England Patriots for a trip to the AFC championship. Mike Vrabel had spent most of his rookie campaign on the bench for the Steelers, barely making an appearance.
Going into the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh led by four before a Patriots field goal brought the game to within a point.
Late in the game, the Patriots began a drive down field hoping to overtake the lead when Vrabel broke through the line, sacking quarterback Drew Bledsoe and forcing a fumble. The Steelers recovered the ball, clinching the game.
This game would be one of the few highlights from Vrabel’s time in Pittsburgh before he would make a name for himself with the New England Patriots.
Against a Browns team led by their second string quarterback, Vrabel led a defensive effort by the New England Patriots with three sacks.
With no touchdowns scored on either side, the game came down to defense with Patriots coming out on top 9-6. Vrabel’s leadership would give the Patriots’ their sixth win on their way to a divisional title and, eventually, the Super Bowl.
After missing the playoffs in 2002, the Patriots returned in 2003, reaching Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons. Mike Vrabel had totaled 9.5 sacks in only 13 games, making 2003, at this point in his career, his most productive season.
Vrabel made his presence felt early in the game with a second-quarter sack of Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Jake Delhomme, forcing a fumble and leading to the first touchdown of the game for the Patriots.
While Vrabel would record another sack, his main highlight in the game came on the offensive side of the ball.
Once ahead 21-10, the Patriots would see their lead disappear with Carolina taking a 22-21 lead. With the ball and time dwindling in the fourth, Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady would drive the ball 68 yards to the one.
Lined up as a tight end, Vrabel would catch a one-yard touchdown pass and after the extra point, the Patriots would lead 29-22.
Vrabel and the Patriots would win their second Super Bowl in three years after a one of the more exciting finishes to a Super Bowl, but Vrabel’s touchdown reception, combined with his defensive performance made him a dual threat and, subsequently, one of the biggest factors in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
After finishing 14-2 in 2004, the Patriots would return to the Super Bowl again, the third time in four seasons. Vrabel would record four tackles and one sack, but, once again, Vrabel’s game highlight would not be on the defensive side of the ball.
Coming out of a first-half tie, the Patriots would march downfield. With Vrabel once again lined up as a tight end, Tom Brady would throw a two-yard pass to Vrabel. Despite being held by defensive end Jevon Kearse, Vrabel would make the catch, putting the Patriots up 14-7.
In a very close game, the Patriots would win their third Super Bowl with Vrabel, making them a dynasty. Vrabel would become one of only 17 players with touchdown catches in multiple Super Bowls with this catch.
More importantly, with a score of 24-21, every point helps and without Vrabel’s catch, the outcome might have been very different.
After his Super Bowl appearances, it is not hard to understand why NFL Network put Mike Vrabel in their top 10 most versatile players of all time. If there were still questions, he answered those against Jets the day after Christmas 2005.
On the last-ever Monday Night Football game on ABC, Vrabel would put his name in the history books.
Recording a sack on defense, Vrabel also lined up twice on the offensive side of the ball, and, for the first time since sacks were officially recorded in 1982, a player scored two touchdowns in a game while recording a sack.
The Patriots would go on to win 31-21 and return to the playoffs.
2007 was a very big year for the Patriots and football in general. New England became the first team to ever finish a regular season 16-0 and a large part of that is due to their defensive pressure. For Mike Vrabel, it was simply his best season.
Vrabel would again show his all-around talents against the Washington Redskins in week eight. Vrabel recorded his second touchdown reception of the season on offense.
On defense, Vrabel would record three sacks, causing quarterback Jason Campbell to fumble all three times. As if that were not enough, as the Redskins attempted to turn their fortunes around with an onside kick, Vrabel recovered it.
Vrabel would receive his only defensive player of the week award following this performance. His 12.5 sacks would be a career high and Vrabel would go to his only Pro Bowl of his career.