Foxborough, Massachusetts is a town built by underdogs. A franchise that nearly folded and moved, a sixth-round quarterback in Tom Brady and a seventh-round QB turned wide receiver in Julian Edelman. Edelman was in every fiber of his being an underdog. He stands at only 5-foot-10, wasn’t invited to the NFL combine and was the 232nd overall pick. Nothing about Edelman in 2009 said he was going to be one of the greatest postseason receivers the game has ever seen – he was.
To Patriots fans, Edelman burst onto the scene as a punt returner who moonlighted as a defensive back whenever injuries hit the secondary. He also caught a few passes in the meantime. On the Patriots, Bill Belichick told everyone, “do your job,” Edelman had more to do than most.
It didn’t seem likely that Edelman was going to take the job of slot receiver for New England. Wes Welker was as good in the slot as Randy Moss was on the outside. The Patriots, however, decided to move on from Welker in the 2013 offseason, and Edelman was thrust into the starting role. It’s sink or swim in the NFL, and Edelman must have taken lessons from Michael Phelps.
The feisty special teamer transformed into Welker 2.0 in the 2013 season. When the Pats faced off against Welker and the Denver Broncos, Edelman looked up at the bright lights of Sunday Night Football and put on a show. He finished with nine catches and 110 yards along with two touchdowns; the second of which gave the Patriots their first lead of the night after trailing 24-0 at halftime.
That night marked the first signature moment of a career chock full of them. A year later, Edelman threw a game-tying touchdown pass in the AFC Divisional Round. Later that season caught the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIX. Two years after that, he somehow came down with the football amid a pile of limbs in Super Bowl LI. That catch along with four others helped Tom Brady and company climb back from a 28-3 deficit against the Atlanta Falcons.
Edelman did all of this while absorbing hit after hit. He often ran so-called “coffin routes” where punishment from a linebacker was all but guaranteed. He played through everything imaginable. In 2017, however, a preseason ACL tear sidelined Edelman for an entire season. He watched from the sideline as the Patriots fell to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII.
Rocky Balboa once said, “it’s not about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
Edelman embodied this more than most. He was back in 2018 and had his best postseason to date. Traveling to Kansas City to take on the heavily favored Chiefs, the Patriots needed everything they had. Edelman, as always, brought it. The seventh rounder snagged seven passes for 96 yards. The two critical first down conversions on third-and-long have stuck in Pats fans’ memories.
In Super Bowl LIII, Edelman took home his third Lombardi trophy along with the game’s MVP award. With his 10 reception, 141-yard night, the pint-sized kid who took Jerry Rice’s daughter to prom moved into second all-time in postseason receptions and receiving yards, only behind Rice.
His last two seasons didn’t have the same glory as others, but Edelman was still there grinding, working and going until the wheels fell off. As he said in his retirement video Monday afternoon, the wheels finally fell off. Edelman isn’t going out on his own terms, but he’s going out in the only way he knows how, with nothing left to give and nothing left to prove.
Photo courtesy of Patrick Semansky.