Our series on ASN’s 50 greatest NFL championship competitors of the past 50 years continues with No. 20 Dan Connolly, originally published on Jan. 30.
Talk to Dan Connolly for a few minutes and you’ll quickly find a common theme: family.
The 33-year-old father of three loved his NFL career, but he loves his three daughters and his wife even more. In fact, when asked about his best Super Bowl memory the theme was? Yep, family.
“The best part for me was when the game was over, and my three daughters didn’t come to many games, but having them on the field afterwards and how excited they were and being able to spend the moment with them …” he said recently of the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl XLIX victory.
“My oldest daughter, I remember her jumping up at me just yelling, ‘We won the Super Bowl!’ She was 5 at the time, I don’t think she really understood where she was at. They’re going to look back on that day, if they have a memory of it, and the joy that they had for me … they were just so excited. That’s a really special memory.”
In many ways, that moment foretold Connolly’s future. After 10 seasons in the NFL, including nine with the New England Patriots, Connolly, a Southeast Missouri grad, became a free agent in 2015 after the Super Bowl. He came close to signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the pull of home was just too much.
“I realized when I got back home and it was time to leave again, it just wasn’t what I wanted,” Connolly said. “They could move with me, but we probably would have been separated for a while and it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. At that point, it was I was going to play with the Patriots or I was going to retire.”
The former offensive lineman chose retirement in July. Besides his family, he said his health was a factor — he’d suffered four concussions during his career and didn’t want to risk his future with three young daughters at home.
Connolly was one of six team captains for the Patriots through the 2014 season. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2005 and signed with the Patriots as a practice-squad player in 2007.
“Winning the Super Bowl was definitely something that got me thinking,” he said. “I wasn’t one of those guys who felt that winning the Super Bowl was something I needed to do to consider my career a success. Coming where I came from, it was great. It was definitely a great time to end.”
While with the Patriots, Connolly reached the Super Bowl three times, losing in 2007 and 2011 before New England defeated the Seattle Seahawks last year, 28-24, to win football’s ultimate prize.
In 2010, Connolly sealed his legacy in the NFL record books when he set the record for the longest kickoff return by an offensive lineman. He returned the ball 71 yards against Green Bay on Dec. 19, 2010, to set up a Patriots touchdown.
“From where his career began as a developmental player to where it finished as a team leader and champion, Dan Connolly was a player I was proud to coach,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick told the Providence Journal.