RINGS OF HONOR

A three-time Super Bowl champ returns to share his experiences with a new crop of Catamounts

BY DANIEL HOOKER ’01
David Patten

Former Western Carolina wide receiver David Patten, a 12-year veteran of the National Football League, has joined the Catamount football coaching staff under second-year head coach Mark Speir MAEd ’95. Announcement of the return of the former Cattamount standout, who played 13 seasons professionally and was on three Super Bowl championship teams, was made at a National Signing Day reception held in the Ramsey Center hospitality room Feb. 4.

Speir, who has stressed the importance of remembering and honoring both the history and tradition of Catamount football since his introduction as the 13th head coach in program history in December 2011, was on the staff of head coach Steve Hodgin MAEd ’83 from 1991 through 1996 while Patten was a Catamount student-athlete. Patten, who is just a few hours shy of completing his collegiate degree from WCU, enrolled in classes part-time in January to finish his major in social work.

“We’re very excited that David Patten is joining our football coaching staff for the 2013 season,” said Speir. “David will bring a lot of energy, knowledge and passion to our program. Having someone like David, with 12 years of NFL experience and three Super Bowl rings, around our players and coaches will be a tremendous asset and boost to our program. He knows what it takes to compete at a high level and it’s awesome to be able to have a guy on staff that came through our program at Western Carolina and excelled on the highest stage.”

Patten played with five different teams during his NFL career. He amassed 324 career receptions, spanning 4,715 yards, and scored 24 touchdowns. The Hopkins, S.C., native rushed 13 times for 106 yards while also returning 111 kickoffs for 2,273 yards, adding two more TDs to his career tally including one rushing and one on a return. He spent time in team meetings, in the locker room and on the field with three potential NFL Hall of Fame members in quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Brees as well as head coach Bill Belichick.

Patten called his four years at WCU among the best times of his life and said he plans to try to instill a sense of family among the current crop of Catamounts. “It didn’t matter that we were surrounded by mountains and it was a dry county or that there were no malls within an hour,” he told the Asheville Citizen-Times. “That didn’t matter much because we had such strong relationships, and the competition was really good. It just takes players buying into it; that’s the biggest impact Western had on me. And it’s absolutely lovely up here. I just love these mountains.”

Undrafted in 1996, Patten began his professional career with the Albany Firebirds of the Arena Football League late in the season, finishing with four pass receptions for 111 yards and a TD. Picked up as a rookie by the NFL’s New York Giants in 1997, Patten posted 13 catches for 226 yards during his first season. His receiving numbers decreased over the next two seasons as the Giants moved him into more of a kick return role, recording 76 returns for 1,601 yards between 1998 and 1999.

The 2000 season saw Patten make a resurgence at wide out with a new team. He tallied a then career-best 38 catches for 546 yards with the Cleveland Browns before making the move to New England. With the Patriots from 2001 through 2004, Patten caught 165 passes for 2,513 yards and 16 touchdowns despite missing most of the 2003 season due to injury.

In a game on Oct. 21, 2001, at Indianapolis, Patten became the first player since Walter Payton in 1979 – and just the sixth NFL player at the time – to rush, catch and pass for a touchdown. He scored on a 29-yard end-around for the ground tally; caught a pass from Brady for a 91-yard touchdown; and finished the triple by tossing an option pass to wide receiver Troy Brown for a 60-yard TD.

With New England, Patten’s banner year came in 2002, when he tallied career highs in catches (61), receiving yards (824) and yards per game (51.5). He was a part of three Super Bowl Championship teams at New England and scored an eight-yard TD against the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002. He went on to play with the Washington Redskins (2005-06) and New Orleans Saints (2007-08), recording his second-best career season of 54 catches for 792 yards in 2007.

Patten says he hopes his experiences will help fire up the 2013 Catamounts. “I’m intrigued and motivated about coming from the other side to see if I can prepare and motivate the players to be better than I was and hopefully get this program turned around,” he told the Citizen-Times.