Before Ty Law was a New England Patriot or even a Michigan Wolverine and long before he got the phone call summoning him to Canton, Ohio., he was already thinking about being a Hall of Famer.
The New England Patriots cornerback set his sights on greatness when he was still in Aliquippa, the poverty-stricken Western Pennsylvania city that has turned football ore, still raw inside many of its hungry kids, into NFL steel. From Mike Ditka to Sean Gilbert to Law to Darelle Revis, Aliquippa High School has produced eight NFL players and dozens more Division I college players.
Law relentlessly pursued greatness at Michigan and in New England where he helped set a culture of working hard that is still part of the franchise’s DNA today.
“I’ve always tried to do not only the best I could but push myself to the limit to see how far I could take it. I knew I was talented, but around Aliquippa, there’s a lot of talented people,” he said. “I knew I had to work harder to get where I wanted to be. I always had a dream of going to college, going to the pros, and being a Hall of Famer.”
Uncle Tony, better known to the rest of us as Tony Dorsett, the Cowboys’ star and former Heisman Trophy winner, was the blueprint.
“ I went to stay the summer times with my Uncle Tony [Dorsett] in Dallas. I used to just stare at that Heisman, stare at his Hall of Fame bust, and that right there, it meant the world to me because I realized dreams do come true,” Law said. “He walked the same streets that I did, so why can’t I? Why not me? But, I knew there had to be a lot of sacrifice to get to that point. You can’t just be a good athlete, because Aliquippa’s got great athletes walking around the street every day. What’s going to set you apart? I tried to set myself apart by doing everything necessary to achieve my goal.”
Once he got to the Patriots as a first-round pick in 1995, the Hall of Fame became the target.
“I really saw that I can play and I can fit in, so being a Hall of Famer was something that I threw out there early. In my early interviews, I said that was the goal because I knew if that was the goal, it wasn’t about just getting on the field right now or working my way up into the nickel, into the rotation and eventually being a starter. I said from day one that my goal by the time I’m done was to be a Hall of Famer” he said. “I set that bar that high, and everything else — to get to that point, I had to work harder, I had to study harder, I had to compete harder. It was the same thing I did when I was at Aliquippa, when I decided to go to the University of Michigan. It was like everything that I am is from my upbringing in Aliquippa, western Pennsylvania, and it just carried on.
“That confidence and that will to win and will to compete, once I got to the NFL, there was no stopping me because in the back of my mind I still see that little kid staring at (Dorsett’s) Heisman trophy and Hall of Fame bust. So, that was the goal from day one, and I just went for it,” he continued. “And I know you had to play a long time. I know you had to play consistently. They don’t just give those things away, no matter how long you played. You had to make an impact, and that’s I tried to do.”
He was successful chasing those goals.
In 10-seasons in New England he won three Super Bowls and went to four Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro twice. He had 53 interceptions for 828 yards and seven touchdowns. The NFL named him to it’s All-Decade Team in the 2000s. He’ll be inducted into the Hall of Fame Saturday.
He made being a NFL cornerback look easy, for good reason.
Nearly 30 percent of people in Aliquippa live below the poverty line and it’s crime rates and schools rank among the worst the bottom in Pennsylvania. Getting out of Aliquippa is hard was hard. Football?Not so much.
“It hardens you to an extent — in a good way, because you see a lot of things, both good and not so good. But, the pride that we have there, and I think my upbringing, the competition has prepared me for everything that I went through in life. My journey stems through what I’ve done and what I’ve seen in Aliquippa,” Law said. “Being out there in the streets was tough. You’ve got to learn to stick up for yourself real quick or you’re not going to make it. All of those things from a competitive standpoint, from a mental standpoint, as far as being — like sharpening your knives — being tough, mentally, it was everything to me.
“To be honest with you, when I got to college, you’re thinking it’s the next step. It’s like, I didn’t know then when I was living it, but I know now and I can say it with confidence, that college was easy, the pros, that was easy compared to how I grew up and what I had, what I’ve seen, and how you had to keep it together,” he continued. “You’ve always got to pick yourself up and believe in yourself and move forward, and that all stems from Aliquippa.”