It was February 5, 2017. The place was NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. The event was Super Bowl LI. Late in the fourth quarter, the New England Patriots had forced overtime with the Atlanta Falcons. They were in position to cap the most improbable comeback in Super Bowl history.
For Patriots fans everywhere, the best was yet to come.
While the euphoria of this historic victory is still celebrated in New England, many Pats fans forget the fact that they probably never believed it could even happen. After all, no team had overcome that large of a deficit in Super Bowl history. In fact, most fans were likely as wide-eyed as Chief Brody (portrayed by the late Roy Scheider) when he first laid eyes on the gigantic killer great white shark in the movie ‘Jaws.’
Be honest…how many of you were feeling like the Patriots “needed a bigger boat?”
Thankfully, the Patriots players and coaches believed that the vessel on which they were traveling was more than suitable for the task. The Patriots capped off the amazing come-from-behind victory, and earned their fifth Super Bowl title in franchise history.
Through it all…who was the most vocal motivator of that team?
It was former Patriots wide receiver, Julian Edelman.
On Tuesday, the Patriots announced that Edelman would be honored with a special halftime ceremony during the team’s Week Three matchup against the New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
The beloved Patriots’ receiver announced his retirement from the team in April, citing the toll of sustained injuries as the culprit for ending his career after eleven seasons. While Edelman’s competitive fire will always burn, his physical durability could no longer support his desire to continue playing the game he loves. In the 35-year-old’s own words, the “wheels finally fell off.”
To say that Edelman is deserving of such an honor is likely an understatement. As a matter of fact, it may have been a ‘halftime-moment’ which helped earn him Sunday’s halftime honors. (Let’s come back to that thought in a moment.) Still, Edelman will join several former Patriots such as Tedy Bruschi, Ty Law and Troy Brown, who have all received halftime honors from the team. Richard Seymour will also receive a ceremony at halftime of New England's game on October 24 against the New York Jets to celebrate his induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame. Still, those questioning the holding of such a ceremony so soon removed from Edelman’s announcement, need only be reminded of his accomplishments on the field, and his impact on the heart of the franchise.
Leader, by example
Originally drafted by New England in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft, Edelman converted to the wide receiver position after having played quarterback both at the College of San Mateo and at Kent State University. He appeared in a total of 157 games (both regular season and postseason) and was never a stranger to the endzone during that timespan. In fact, Edelman has played a role in 48 total touchdowns throughout his eleven-year career, including two as a passer and four as a punt returner. He finished his career with 620 regular season catches for 6,822 yards and 36 touchdowns. However, Edelman’s star shined at its brightest in the postseason. He totaled 118 receptions for 1,442 yards and 5 touchdowns in the playoffs, second on the league’s all-time list behind Hall-of-Famer Jerry Rice, who holds the records for both receptions (151) and yards (2,245.)
Edelman was certainly no stranger to the rigors of overcoming physical adversity. Having missed the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL, Edelman continued to battle injuries throughout the remainder of his career. During his 2019 campaign, he fought through shoulder, chest and knee injuries; all while missing minimal time. Any one of those injuries would have kept a lesser competitor away from the field for an extended period. Yet, Julian Edelman fought not only to be active, but also to remain a valued member of the Patriots offense. Even as he was limited to six games in 2020, Edelman still showed flashes of his patented prowess and determination. In what would eventually become his final season, Edelman set a career-high 179 receiving yards versus the Seattle Seahawks in Week Two. He ultimately finished the season with 21 caught passes for 315 yards, before undergoing a procedure to repair his knee in October. Edelman retired having played his entire pro career in a Patriots uniform.
“One Hell of a Story”
Despite his prowess on the football field, Julian Edelman’s legacy is indelibly defined by his tenacity, perseverance and leadership. Whether it be defying the odds to become one of the most reliable pass catchers in the NFL, or playing through the pain of numerous injuries, Edelman remained relentless in the pursuit of his goals.
Even when the day seemed to be at its darkest hour, Julian Edelman believed that his persistence would light the way.
Perhaps the greatest example of Edelmen’s resolve can be found on that aforementioned, fateful February day in Houston. Aside from the incredible catch that made it all possible, Edelman’s determination took center stage in the locker room at halftime. Despite being down 21-3, Edelman told quarterback Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels that he believed the Pats would, indeed, win the game, adding that it would be a “hell of a story.”
Amazingly, Edelman's foreshadowing had just begun. Just prior to the start of overtime, he once again had a message for Brady, his good friend and teammate. This time, it wasn’t so much of a game prediction, as it was a reminder to never quit the fight:
“Let’s win this thing. For your mom. For your mom, bro,” Edelman said.
Brady’s mother, Galynn, had been undergoing cancer treatment for much of 2016. Her health had prevented her from being able to attend Patriots games for the majority of the season. However, she was in Houston on that day to cheer on her son and his team as they competed for a championship. Her presence reminded the team of the true meaning of courage and perseverance. The Patriots scored on the opening drive and fulfilled Edelman’s prediction. In his words, it was truly one ‘hell of a story.’
Julian Edelman would be the first to say that a professional athlete should not need extra motivation. Determination and love for the game should be more than enough to stoke the flames of pursuing success. His words during Super Bowl LI were not meant to serve as a rallying cry. His plea was not a ‘win one for the Gipper’-type speech. Most importantly, he certainly was not exploiting the condition of his close friend’s mother. Instead, he simply served a reminder that the fight is never over, as long as there is a chance to win. The chance may not be great. Yet, if it exists, you have to take it.
Legend, by nature
Though the Patriots have begun the 2021 season without one of the toughest and most prolific targets in their arsenal, the honor he receives on Sunday reminds us that Julian Edelman has not strayed far from Foxboro. In fact, the Patriots carry a piece of Edelman’s spirit each time they put his motivational example into action. It requires neither a social media campaign, nor a t-shirt bearing its slogan. Instead, it will remain a commitment between teammates; between brothers. As he fought for them, they will honor him by never quitting the fight. Edelman’s presence is with the Patriots each week, reminding them to ‘win this thing’ just like he did back in February 2017.
On Sunday, New England will pay homage to a player that defined what it means to be a Patriot. Perhaps it is fitting that he will be honored at halftime, the very setting of his motivational declaration during Super Bowl LI. But for all the memories that Julian Edelman has provided Patriots Nation throughout his amazing career, his most lasting impact on the New England Patriots organization continues to take shape.
It is only the beginning of such accolades.
Accordingly, his ‘red jacket’ and spot in the Patriots Hall of Fame are all but assured…and well-deserved.