Mike Compton was there when it all began.
When Tom Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe as the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots.
When Bill Belichick was in his second year as New England’s head coach and wasn’t yet considered a scowling genius in a sweatshirt.
A former Richlands High School star, Compton spent three of his 12 seasons as an NFL offensive lineman with New England and won two Super Bowl rings.
He started at left guard in Super Bowl XXXVI and was on the field when Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard field goal split the uprights as time expired, giving the Patriots a 20-17 victory over the St. Louis Rams and signaling the start of a dynasty.
Fifteen years have passed.
Compton is now an assistant coach at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.
Brady and Belichick are still doing their thing in New England.
Those Patriots are in their seventh Super Bowl in 15 years today against the Atlanta Falcons.
That’s some longevity.
“Well, I think most of it can be attributed to the organization as a whole,” Compton said on Friday. “Specifically, Coach Belichick and [owner] Bob Kraft. I think for something like this to be happening 15 years later, it’s all about the process with Coach Belichick and those guys believe and trust the process and accept their roles.
“Obviously it helps too when you have a quarterback like Tom Brady.”
For the first eight years of his NFL career, Compton played in Detroit and never won a playoff game.
After signing with the Patriots as a free agent prior to the 2001 season, it didn’t take him long to realize there were some major differences between his former team and his new employers.
“As far as who’s calling the shots and how the organization was run, yes,” Compton said. “All NFL teams are equally talented. No team has that big of a talent gap, but the championship teams are the ones that compete year in and year out consistently and they have the foundation and the structure. Everybody knows who’s calling the shots and who’s running things.”
That would be Belichick.
Compton learned quickly that the coach treated every player the same, whether it was the star quarterback or the longsnapper.
“From my time there, he did,” Compton said. “His attitude was, ‘If a young player was late to a meeting because the electricity went off in his house and another young player was late because he was too lazy to get up, I can’t distinguish between the two. I treat both the same.’ Then he would take care of it. He is what you see. … He’s always looking for every angle – physically and mentally – to try to give his team the edge.”
Did Compton ever draw Belichick’s ire?
“No,” Compton said. “I tried not to.”
Compton remembers Belichick’s coaching strategies were unique.
“He would relate things that had nothing to do with football,” Compton said. “One time he showed us a horse race, like the Kentucky Derby or something, and he stopped it about when they got to the first curb and he said, ‘Who’s going to win?’ and guys would be like ‘That horse right there,’ and he would say, ‘You don’t know, the race has just begun.’
“He would show us documentaries. … He was always thinking outside the box and would prepare us for stuff so nothing in a game would come as a surprise.”
Take Malcolm Butler’s interception that sealed the Super Bowl win for the Patriots two years ago against the Seattle Seahawks.
“They had seen that play multiple times and were prepared for it,” Compton said. “That’s true Bill Belichick.”
Mox was the nickname Compton bestowed upon Tom Brady.
It derived from Jonathan Moxon, James Van Der Beek’s character in the 1999 film, “Varsity Blues.”
In the movie, Mox was the backup quarterback at a Texas high school who got his chance when the starter was injured.
Life imitating art.
“I always called him that because he just came in there and was slinging the ball around,” Compton said. “He was just a guy that had fun and loved to compete. He had a chip on his shoulder because he wasn’t drafted very high and he wanted to prove himself. … Being in the huddle with him and watching him lead, it was enjoyable, it was fun.”
He didn’t quite envision that Brady would be this great.
“Not to what he’s achieved now,” Compton said.
Compton is still peppered with questions about his days as a pro football player.
Youngsters usually don’t inquire about Barry Sanders, the incomparable running back Compton blocked for in Detroit.
They want to hear stories about the ageless QB for the Patriots.
“They ask more about Brady than Barry,” Compton said. “They ask me what kind of guy he was and what kind of teammate he was. I tell them that I’ve had the privilege to be from Southwest Virginia and play with two of the greatest players to ever play the game.
“They were both first-class guys. If I could have had both of those guys in Detroit early in my career, I’d have four or five Super Bowl rings. If we’d had Tom Brady and Barry Sanders, the sky’s the limit.”
Compton is a busy man these days.
Instead of preparing for the Super Bowl this week, however, the recruiting trail has beckoned as he helped land future players for the UVa-Wise Highland Cavaliers in advance of National Signing Day.
He did return to his old stomping grounds back in December when the Super Bowl XXXVI champions were honored prior to a game against the Los Angeles Rams.
“It was great seeing everybody,” Compton said. “We didn’t talk about old football stories, we talked about our families and what we are doing now. You have that bond you form with guys because you go to battle with each other. Mr. Kraft flew everybody up in first class and we had first-class accommodations. It was typical New England Patriots. If you’ve played for New England and then gone somewhere else, it’s like night and day.”
Compton remembers a seminal moment from that 2001 season.
It wasn’t Bledsoe-for-Brady.
It wasn’t that beatdown of Indianapolis in Week 3.
It was a 24-17 primetime loss to the Rams in mid-November.
“I think the turning point was when we played St. Louis in New England and we lost to them by a touchdown,” Compton said. “We walked off the field that night and we said, ‘If we get another chance at the Greatest Show on Turf, we can beat these guys.’
“Like anybody will tell you in the NFL, it’s not necessarily the best team at the beginning of the year, it’s the team that gets on that roll in December and whoever gets hot.”
The Patriots got hot.
Playoff victories over Oakland and Pittsburgh.
Upstaging and upsetting the Greatest Show on Turf in the Super Bowl.
A confident quarterback.
A mastermind of a coach.
Fifteen years later the Patriots are still in the spotlight.
“To win and be a part of that Super Bowl is still one of the greatest moments of my football career,” Compton said. “It gets better 15 years later, knowing you were there for the start of it all and we were the group of guys that laid that foundation.
“Besides Tom Brady and [wide receiver] Troy Brown, I don’t think anybody else could name another [offensive] starter on that first Super Bowl [title] team. It was just a bunch of supposedly washed up, over the hill, no-name guys that started 0-2 and ended up winning the Super Bowl. … That’s pretty special.”