“Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.” We have heard this saying through the course of history. Whether it be from a traumatic event or natural disaster, you hear it over and over again.
Rarely do you hear it in sports. But late Sunday night, after sitting on the couch for hours watching the Super Bowl festivities and the game, we heard that phrase again.
After ten catches for 141 yards, relentless blocking, and leading his teammates, Julian Edelman stood next to a reporter, completely gassed. He and the Patriots had just completed the six-pack, six Super Bowl victories since 2001.
With eye black smeared across his cheeks and sweat dripping from his face to his lumber-jack beard, Edelman spoke the words that tell the story of his life. And what a story it’s been for Edelman. From an unknown football player in Redwood City, California to Super Bowl MVP.
We can examine his clutch plays throughout the postseason since he joined the Patriots in ’09. We can discuss how he stands second in receptions and yards in the playoffs to Jerry Rice. But those classifications would do Edelman a disservice.
How he got to where he is now is due to his indomitable spirit and will to compete and win.
Whether it was silencing loud-mouth parents in Pop Warner, and leading his team to a national championship. Or when he entered high school as a 4’10”, 95-pound running back turned quarterback and led his Woodside High team to an undefeated season. Edelman was a winner in every sense of the word.
But it never came easy.
A Winner’s Mindset
As a dual-threat quarterback at Kent State, Edelman displayed mental and physical toughness. He ran over people twice his size and fired crisp, tight spirals to his receivers. At just 5’10”, he wasn’t the prototypical size of a quarterback. But his determination to win allowed him to exceed expectations.
And that caught the eye of Bill Belichick.
Rick Gosselin, a former columnist at the Dallas Morning News and a draft expert, told the coach about Edelman. The diminutive, fiery QB out of Kent State made quite the impression on him.
Belichick did some digging into film and saw what few saw in a massacre by Ohio State: A kid with a relentless motor who refused to be stopped.
According Belichick, “He didn’t have a lot of blocking, and they were getting killed by Ohio State, but what you saw in that game was how competitive he was, how hard he was to tackle, how tough he was…Even though it was three or four touchdowns they were behind, he played the game with an intensity that, honestly, was hard for them to handle.’’
The Patriots didn’t know his role at the next level. But they made sure to take a chance on him in the seventh round of 2009 NFL Draft.
Right away, the Patriots asked him to field punts and play wide receiver, two things he’d never done before. He even moonlighted as a cornerback early on. What separated him from being just a feel-good story was his unending drive to be the best he could be.
“No one has worked harder in my career to develop his skills and his craft at a position he’d never played,’’ said Belichick.
Edelman’s first playoff game, when the Baltimore Ravens rolled through Foxborough, set the tone for the rest of his playoff career. He was the best player on the field for the Patriots that day, according to Belichick.
The quintessential play to sum up Edelman’s career came on a fourth and 10. Edelman caught a screen pass and sprinted upfield, breaking at least four or five tackles, until basically the entire Ravens’s defense had to tackle him. He refused to go down because that is the way Edelman has always played.
Super Bowl Superstar
Fast forward to Super Bowl 49, the Patriots were down 24-14 to the Seahawks on a third and 14. Brady delivered a strike to Edelman who somehow hung on and kept running after a jaw-breaking hit by one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the league at the time, Kam Chancellor.
No ordinary player makes the catch, takes a vicious hit, and keeps running. But Edelman is no ordinary player.
Two years later in Atlanta, Edelman’s made his own rendition of a David Tyree-type catch.
Impossible is not a word in Edelman’s dictionary.
No one thought he could top the catch against the Seahawks. But, draped by three defenders against Atlanta in Super Bowl 51, Edelman went up for the ball, but a pack of defenders deflected it up into the air. As the ball fell down towards the turf, along with the Patriots’ season, Edelman, with great awareness, literally snatched the ball out of thin air.
So many plays in Edelman’s career have come from his relentlessness and competitive drive. He strives to be the best he can be for himself, but, most importantly, for his teammates. That’s why Brady calls him “the little brother I’ve never had.”
“He’s a fighter, man,” Brady said of Edelman. “I’m just so proud of him…he just cemented himself, again, in the history of the NFL for what his accomplishments are.”
Back to Sunday night. After the confetti fell and the victory started to soak in, Edelman summed up what makes him tick:
“I’m getting to live out a dream, so it’s pretty surreal right now,” Edelman said. “I think everything happens for a reason. I was always taught as a young boy that you always just have to work hard. Work as hard as you can, put in the extra time and we will see where it goes.”
In reaction to hearing his name next to the great Jerry Rice in postseason lore, he said, “It’s an honor to be put in the same sentence with Mr. Rice, Jerry Rice,” Edelman said. “But I’m just worried about now.”
Right now, he and Brady have gone to Disney World and celebrated with the hundreds of thousands of fans on the duck boats back in Boston. For now, Edelman will rest and recharge. Because although his season is over, his career and story have just begun.
The legend of Julian Edelman lives on.