Sports

Former NFL star Ben Coates leads new class into S.C. Hall of Fame

Former New England Patriots tight end Ben Coates, left, is part of the The South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2015.
Former New England Patriots tight end Ben Coates, left, is part of the The South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2015. gmelendez@thestate.com

He helped start it, so he should be proud.

Even when his former team is in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

“It’s like the Cowboys (in the 1990s),” former New England tight end Ben Coates said on Monday. “Or the 49ers in the ’80s, when they won Super Bowl after Super Bowl after Super Bowl. People look around and say, ‘OK, how are they winning? What is it?’ and things start to come out.

“It didn’t happen in my era, so I wouldn’t know.”

Coates, a Greenwood native, ended his NFL career with a Super Bowl win in 2000, but that was in the final year of his tenure (Baltimore). He played from 1991-99 with the Patriots, and played well – he was a five-time Pro Bowler, two-time first-team All-Pro, helped them to their second Super Bowl appearance and retired as the No. 4 tight end in career catches.

Coates was with the Patriots in 1996 when they lost to Green Bay (featuring fellow Greenwood native and cousin Robert Brooks) in the Super Bowl and retired in 2000 with the knowledge that he helped lay the groundwork for a dynasty. His quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, begat Tom Brady, and New England went to six Super Bowls after Coates’ career, winning four, including last year’s.

Yet the news these days is how the Patriots won that last Super Bowl or the AFC Championship Game to get to that Super Bowl. Were under-inflated footballs, with the possible knowledge of Brady, a factor?

Coates is kidded about it and takes a neutral stance.

“Look, stuff happened all the time,” he said. “It’s just when the Patriots started winning, it started all the fire. SpyGate, inflated balls, whatever … I wasn’t in the locker room, so I don’t know.”

Coates was inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame on Monday with six others – former Clemson running back Terry Allen, former USC pitcher and Golden Spikes Award winner Kip Bouknight, former Lander tennis coach and 12-time national champion Joe Cabri, former Clemson soccer star and two-time national champion Bruce Murray, former Furman and local high school football coach Jimmy Satterfield and the late Les Timms, former sports editor of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.

He spoke of his journey from playing one year of football at Greenwood High to his career at Division II Livingstone College to a lengthy NFL life. He also spoke of his niece, Alaina Coates, who received her share of Ben’s height and blossomed into one of the best basketball players in the SEC.

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