The Patriots may never have had such a highly anticipated regular season game on their schedule as the one slated for Oct. 3 vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tom Brady’s return to Foxborough is the NFL’s regular season marquee game. Although this is Brady’s first game against the Patriots, he is not the only franchise legend to make a return to Foxborough.
Over the years, several notable Patriots and Hall of Famers have gone off to play for other teams. During their time away, some of these legends made their way back to Foxborough and stood on the opposing sideline as Patriots fans reminisced about all of the fond memories.
Drew Bledsoe Returns December 8, 2002
Before Tom Brady, the New England Patriots were Drew Bledsoe’s team. The gun-slinging quarterback had been the face of the franchise for nearly a decade, helping the Patriots to the playoffs and a Super Bowl appearance. Number 11 was No. 1 in Foxboro. After a championship run in 2001, Bledsoe was traded to the Buffalo Bills for the 2002 campaign. His return to Foxborough the following year was emotional for fans. While some fans saw hope with the young QB (Brady), many others saw Bledsoe as a Patriot for life.
Leon Gray Returns October 18, 1981
The departure of All-Pro left tackle Leon Gray after the 1978 season was tough to swallow. During Gray’s Patriots Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2018, teammate John Hannah reflected on that decision by Patriots brass as one that really stung him and the team. Hannah was able to re-connect with his old friend during the 1981 season. Gray and the Houston Oilers visited Schaefer Stadium in mid-October for an afternoon matchup. The Patriots topped the Oilers 38-10 but the reunion of old friends and seeing a top tier offensive lineman return to his stomping grounds was a storyline for this Patriots victory.
Willie McGinest Returns October 7, 2007
Being the first draft pick under Robert Kraft’s ownership gave Willie McGinest a very close connection to the Patriots organization. When McGinest joined the Cleveland Browns for the 2006 season, he had to wait an entire season until he could return to Foxboro and embrace with former teammates, coaches, and ownership whom he played alongside for 12 seasons. Unfortunately for McGinest and the Browns, the 2007 Patriots dealt them a 34-17 loss during the Patriots undefeated regular season.
Ty Law Returns December 4, 2005
While beginning his Pro Football Hall of Fame career in New England, Ty Law added a few different teams to his resume before retiring in 2009. After his time with the Patriots ended with a championship season in 2004, he joined the division rival New York Jets for the 2005 campaign. He made his Gillette Stadium return on Dec. 4, 2005 which ended in a 16-3 Patriots win. It wasn’t fun watching one of the best shutdown corners in team history suddenly defending Patriots receivers.
Jim Nance Returns October 14, 1973
Former American Football League MVP (1966) Jim Nance had retired from the Patriots following the 1971 NFL season. The powerful running back returned to football in 1973, this time with the division rival New York Jets. Nance made his debut at Schaefer Stadium on October 14, 1973. While Nance was dressed and on the opposing sideline, he did not enter the game.
Stanley Morgan Returns November 11, 1990
Stanley Morgan’s Pro Football Hall of Fame worthy career ended in Indianapolis. Morgan added 364 receiving yards to his already impressive 10,352 yards (Patriots all-time leader) during his single season with the Colts. Morgan’s only return to Foxboro came in an early November matchup during the 1990 season. Despite not landing on the stat sheet, the Patriots great was on the opposing sideline that day.
Mike Haynes Returns September 29, 1985
Mike Haynes joined the silver and black for part of the 1983 NFL season. Haynes did not make his return to Foxborough until September of 1985. Haynes and the Raiders defeated the Patriots, with Haynes returning an interception 27 yards for a touchdown in his triumphant return. This wasn’t the only meeting for Haynes and the Patriots that season. They met again in Los Angeles during the playoffs as the Patriots won three away postseason games en route to Super Bowl XX.
Nick Buoniconti Returns November 9, 1969
Pro Football Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti was a dominant linebacker for the Patriots in the AFL and was equally as dominant with the Dolphins before and after the AFL-NFL merger. Buoniconti’s first game against the Patriots came during the 1969 season. He finished the game with 10 tackles, helping Miami to a one-point victory at Boston College.
Vito “Babe” Parilli Returns October 5, 1969
After joining the upstart Boston Patriots in 1961, Parilli spent the next seven seasons as the franchise’s first star quarterback. After the 1967 season, Parilli left New England to join the New York Jets. He served primarily as a back-up to Joe Namath during his two seasons in the Big Apple. After the Patriots played their home game against the Jets in Birmingham, Alabama in 1968, Parilli finally got his chance to come back to Boston one final time. On October 5, 1969.
Vince Wilfork Returns September 22, 2016
The lovable, smiling face of Vince Wilfork graced the Patriots sideline for 11 seasons, his last coming in 2014 with a ceremonious Super Bowl championship send-off. Wilfork joined the Texans for two more years and made his emotional return to Gillette Stadium on Sept. 22, 2016. He returned again a few months later when the Patriots hosted the Texans in a Divisional Playoff game. Even in a different uniform, Wilfork was always a fan favorite in Foxborough.
Wes Welker Returns November 24, 2013
Wes Welker joined the Patriots ahead of the 2007 season and his career exploded. Welker quickly became an impactful slot receiver. He continued that success when he joined Peyton Manning in Denver for the 2013 season. Welker’s return to Foxborough came in a late-November matchup which saw the Broncos dominate the Patriots in the first half, taking a 24-0 lead into halftime. The Patriots however, battled back to tie the game in regulation and win in overtime when Welker failed to field a punt, which deflected off a Bronco teammate allowing the Patriots to recover and kick a game-winning field goal. While the game was Welker’s return to Gillette Stadium, it remains the largest regular season comeback win in Patriots history.
Adam Vinatieri Returns November 5, 2006
The future Hall of Fame kicker played his final game with the Patriots in a January, 2006 playoff loss at Denver. The following season, Vinatieri landed with the long-time rival Indianapolis Colts. He made his first return to Foxborough on November 5, 2006. Vinatieri went just 2-for-4 on field goals and converted all three extra points in the Colts to a 27-20 win.
Mike Vrabel Returns September 24, 2017
After spending eight seasons in New England, Mike Vrabel retired from football in 2010 after playing two seasons in Kansas City. Vrabel and the Chiefs did not come to Foxborough for a game; so his return came in 2017 when he was the Houston Texans defensive coordinator. The Patriots won that game, 36-33.