- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

HOUSTON — There is no debate, Rodney Harrison insists, over the identity of the NFL’s best cornerback.

“Tell me a guy that’s played better than Ty Law,” said Harrison, the New England Patriots’ All-Pro safety. “You can’t.”

Most folks around New England and plenty more around the country would concur. So how come Law perennially gets less publicity than the Washington Redskins’ Champ Bailey and the Oakland Raiders’ Charles Woodson?

“I get mentioned, but it’s always behind the couple of guys you just said,” Law said. “I was not a high first-round draft choice [Bailey]. I wasn’t the Heisman Trophy winner [Woodson]. … I hear a lot of talk about a lot of other cornerbacks that I respect in this league, but I want to make it a point that every time I’m on the field, I’m the best one.”

Perhaps it’s the Patriots’ team-first philosophy that leads to Law’s lack of stardom. The average football fan has probably heard of him, but few could pick him out of a crowded room. Of course, if Law has a few more games like the one he had in New England’s AFC Championship victory over Indianapolis, he might finally get his respect.

It’s often said a cornerback is at his best when no one notices him, meaning he was so effective that the opposition didn’t even bother throwing in his direction. Against the Colts, Law took it to an even higher level. Not only did he keep Peyton Manning from throwing the ball at him, on those extremely rare times the ball did come his way, Law came down with it. By the end of the day, Law had as many interceptions (three) as the Pro Bowl receiver he was covering (Marvin Harrison) had receptions.

“The best game I’ve ever seen played by a cornerback,” Deion Sanders said, “including myself.”

Thing is, Law has been putting together dominating games for years. An imposing physical specimen for a corner (5-foot-11, 200 pounds), he regularly lines up against the top wide receivers in the game. And with an aggressive, in-your-face style, Law almost always wins — usually after making his share of highlight-reel plays. In nine seasons with the Patriots, Law, 29, has 35 interceptions and has returned six for touchdowns.

“The guy just makes plays,” fellow New England cornerback Tyrone Poole said.

He also makes routine plays, as evidenced by his career-high 77 tackles this season.

“You look at this dude and say, ‘Man, he looks like a safety, but he runs like a corner,’” Harrison said. “Which is evidenced by his numbers, [77] tackles, six picks. He’s just a tremendous player.”

Given all that, the notion that the Patriots might cut Law during the offseason sounds preposterous. There has, however, been speculation all week that such a move could happen because he is set to count $9.4million against the salary cap in 2004 and $12.5million in 2005 (the final year of his contract).

Regular followers of the Patriots say they seriously doubt the club will release their best player — but then again, few thought New England would cut Pro Bowl safety Lawyer Milloy in a salary cap move days before the start of the season.

“I definitely want to be a New England Patriot, and I’m going to do everything possible to make that happen,” said Law, who has never played for another team. “If not, life moves on, and I wish everyone well here.”

Coach Bill Belichick has sidestepped the issue this week, saying, “We will worry about next year next year,” but it’s expected the Patriots and agent Carl Poston will attempt to restructure Law’s deal to lower his cap figure and keep him in New England.

The Patriots would be wise to do everything in their power to hang on to this rare specimen.

Many of the NFL’s best players ascend to those ranks because of their pure physical abilities. Law combines those natural gifts with a work ethic that consistently leaves teammates awestruck.

“I’ll be driving to the stadium early in the morning, and I’ll see him already out there, running around the stadium,” rookie safety Eugene Wilson said. “I’ve never really been around anyone like that, but it pays off. You see it in his play.”

Law credits track legend Bob Kersee, with whom he trains in the offseason, for that maniacal work ethic. His motivation, though, may surprise you. It certainly helps explain his neverending quest to prove his greatness to the world.

“The Super Bowl, playing well, making money — everybody tends to focus on those types of things,” Law said. “But my ultimate goal is to hopefully get enshrined in the Hall of Fame. That’s just something I strive for. To say that it’s going to happen, I don’t know, but that’s what I’m working for.

“I feel if I work to achieve that goal, everything else will take care of itself, as far as the accolades, the contracts, the money and everything else. I don’t play this game for that. I play this game because I love it, and I want to go out there and be the best at it.”

Even if no one recognizes it.

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