Commentary by Jacqueline Bennett 033


Whenever a popular player from one of my favorite teams, who has not only performed well but with loyalty and integrity, is shown the door it feels like salt in an old wound for me. That being the devasting 11th hour trade of Ronnie Francis from the former National Hockey League Hartford Whalers.


Known to virtually everyone in Connecticut by his first name during his time with the Whale, “Ronnie” was traded on March 4, 1991. He was traded along with Ulf Samuelson and Grant Jennings to the Pittsburgh Penguins after Francis spent close to ten seasons with the Whalers, most of those as captain, reportedly scoring 264 goals, 557 assists and “setting nearly every offensive record in franchise history.” Rightfully so, he was beloved for his finesse on the ice, the pride he took in playing for the team, the genuineness of his charity work and for being an all-around good guy. I was fortunate enough to have met and interviewed Francis when I was a reporter for the Manchester Herald, and he came and spoke to an assembly about the importance of reading at the elementary school where my sister taught.


Nicknamed “Ronnie Franchise” by the media, The Whalers never recovered from the trade of Francis as disenchanted fans turned away from the team.


Nearly a quarter of a century later in March 2015, the National Football League New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork announced on Twitter that he had been informed the Patriots will not be picking up his option for next season. Given his age, 33, and a past injury that sidelined him a season ago, the decision by the Patriots was not a complete surprise. Nonetheless, it still leaves a sinking feeling in my stomach.


Like Francis, Wilfork is one of the good guys. A first round NFL draft pick in 2004, Wilfork has been described as a “staple” with the Pats for eleven years. He came back from injury to help them win the Super Bowl in February of this year.


According to one report I read, not picking up Wilfork will save the Patriots $8 million against next year’s salary cap. Yes, professional sports are businesses. Yet, clearly for those of us who watch the games there is also a component of emotion – that’s why we go out and buy t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, etc. displaying “our” team’s logo. So, when one of the good guys gets the boot it is not cut and dry – there is a sense of attachment, an appreciation of their talent and what they have given of themselves all to be mourned. It is about loss.


Early this morning, New England Sports Network reported that they expect Wilfork will someday be a New England Patriots Hall of Famer. He should be.


For those who might not know Wilfork from the gridiron, he has also been that likable spokesman for Big Y World Class Supermarkets, shown in commericials with his young son.


To his credit, Wilfork has put out a very classy farewell statement praising the Patriots organization, head coach Bill Belichick as the “best ever” and his teammates, many of whom he said have become like brothers to him.


Please know how blessed my family and I have been to be able to play 11 years in New England for an amazing organization,” Wilfork wrote.


Wilfork concluded by saying, “… I will always remain a New Englander a Patriot forever.”


You will be missed Vince.




Read Wilfork’s full Twitter statement below: