How Mr Julian Edelman Won The Super Bowl
The NFL’s funny man on that catch, unexpected fatherhood and his bromance with Mr Tom Brady
Mr Edelman’s team, the New England Patriots, were trailing the Atlanta Falcons by 25 points in the second half of this year’s championship game. With two minutes left, the gap still stood at eight points and time was running out. Pats quarterback Mr Tom Brady threw a pass into the melée and it looked for all the world like it was going to be intercepted by one of three converging, hostile defenders. Had one of them done so, that would have been game over. But somehow Mr Edelman dived between all of them, indeed through the legs of one, as the ball ricocheted off body parts. He snatched it, juggled it and held on. Just. It was the play that set up the touchdown in New England’s history-making 34-28 overtime victory. And it made Mr Edelman a Super Bowl legend. “I think it was one of the greatest catches I’ve ever seen,’’ Mr Brady said afterwards. “I don’t know how the hell he caught it. I mean, I don’t think anybody… I don’t think he does.’’
As we sit down to lunch in Los Angeles, just before Mr Edelman goes into training camp lockdown ahead of the new NFL season, the man himself says, “You know, that one was just a fluky play. Unfortunately, I can’t stop thinking about a play earlier that I dropped. But the game was definitely the experience of a lifetime. Unbelievable.”
Two years earlier he’d also scored the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks to earn his first championship ring.
This is all the more remarkable because Mr Edelman very nearly didn’t make it to the pros at all. In 2009, he was one of the last scrapes of the barrel. Mr Edelman was pick number 232 out of 255, in the seventh and final round, described as “an afterthought” and “a punt on a runt”. He’s 5ft 10in in any direction you care to measure, but in a sport where size really matters, a pro scout dismissed him as “too small and unconventional”, while another said he was “too short to see the whole field”. He was overlooked all the way through the system. “I wasn’t recognised,” he says.
While most high school and college football players enjoy celebrity status on campus, Mr Edelman never experienced that. When, aged 20, he told one of his junior college professors of his ambitions to make it to the NFL one day, she pointedly advised him to set more realistic goals. Last month he tweeted a recent letter from that teacher, apologising for her disparaging dismissal. “I posted it as motivation for kids and it went super viral,” he says.
Mr Edelman has been on the receiving end of a lot of knocks over the years. So much so, he made a clever ad for a coaching company, in which he read out all the criticism that has been levelled at him before saying, “There are only two things you can do when someone says you’re not good enough: you can prove them right, or you can prove them wrong.”
Mr Edelman grew up in Redwood City, 27 miles south of San Francisco, with an older brother, Jason, and younger sister, Nicole. His father, Mr Frank Edelman, is a hard-grafting car mechanic who has always coached football in his spare time. Mr Edelman’s playful side comes from his stay-at-home mother, Angie, aka Edelmom, but he inherited his serious side from his father. Mr Frank Edelman’s own dad died when he was three and so he was determined to give all three of his kids the opportunities he never had, while making sure they appreciated them.
Mr Julian “Jules” Edelman arrived at the Patriots as a quarterback, but was immediately told to change position to receiver. “It is certainly a big feat to try to learn a [new] position at a professional level,” says the 31-year-old. His father helped him with some unorthodox coaching. “My dad was a big drill guy,” says Mr Edelman. “When I got to the pros, I’d never really caught punts. So he would tape one arm behind my back or he’d make me use one arm, and he’d have my sister or my buddy Kurt throw little tennis balls at my face while my dad would get on the top of a press box at our high school. He would punt the balls off there because he couldn’t get them high enough, and I’d have to catch them.”
Mr Edelman has broken every finger over the years and the pinkie on his right hand is permanently bent out of shape. “Then [my father] got a pair of sunglasses and he would tape one eye off,” he says. “I had to catch the ball with only one eye and one arm to try to make it really hard. He was just always thinking about these one-hand catches when I became a receiver. He’d always try to work my mental side.” Mr Edelman describes his dad as his hero, and he still speaks to him most days. Watch this video about their bond and try not to well up. “He’s earned everything he’s got,” says Mr Frank Edelman. “Nothing was given to that boy.”
Mr Edelman has a number of nicknames – most notably Minitron (a play on Megatron from Transformers) and Squirrel, because he’s diminutive but fast and evasive, “and I’m always out there trying to find some nuts” (ie, footballs). He is a Scrappy-Doo type of character who is known for being fearless, relentless, hyper-competitive, prepared to outwork and outfight anyone regardless of their size or reputation. “I think I hate losing more than I love winning,” he says. He is equal parts muscle and hustle. At one point, however, it seemed as if his career might fizzle out. It was 2012, he’d picked up a season-ending injury and, with his contract expiring, it looked like he might get dropped from the team.
It was around this time that he went to lunch with a friend who worked in marketing, Mr Assaf Swissa, the son of his barber in Boston, who was also down on his luck having just been summarily fired from a multi-million-dollar startup he’d co-founded. “Julian and I had been friendly for a while, but it was only after we both were in the gutter that we started to work together,” says Mr Swissa. “At lunch he said to me, ‘I’ve been in the league four years. I’ve had some nice punt returns, but I’m probably going to get the league minimum [salary]. Should we start to do marketing stuff?’ Normally, I might not have taken that opportunity, but since I was already on my ass, I figured why not? Uncertainty brought us close and we started to make things – social media, video content, a logo, a brand, but we didn’t call it that. It was just some creative stuff we were up to.”
The following season, against the odds, Mr Edelman returned to become a mainstay of the Patriots team, Mr Brady’s go-to guy with the ball, and earned himself a four-year $17m contract, which he renewed this summer for a further two years and another $11m.
His popularity off the pitch soared, too, as fans responded to his winning personality as well as his winning mentality. The tipping point came with a tweet he fired out in September 2013, the day that the Patriots were playing Sunday Night Football on one channel with the Breaking Bad finale airing at the same time on a rival channel. He posted “Heisenberg can wait” (Heisenberg, aka Walter White, being the main protagonist in Breaking Bad) and his Twitter feed suddenly blew up. A couple of months later he did an amusing Ask Me Anything on Reddit. And then, in the off-season, he began to release some surprisingly well executed comedy skits on YouTube – notably Smoothie Tyme and Burger Tyme – which poked fun at himself and his teammates. Tyme is a Mr Edelman signature. He’s had cameos in hit TV shows Entourage and Ballers and has ideas to produce his own show. He’s been writing scripts and he and Mr Swissa are pitching an idea to TV networks. Not bad for someone who showed little academic promise at school.
Social media hasn’t always been his friend, however. In 2015, he came in for a lot of flak after a Tinder hookup posted an apparently post-coital picture of Mr Edelman passed out in her bed with a compromising caption. He winces when asked about it now. “It is what it is,” he shrugs. “It sucks because that’s just how it is nowadays. I’ve had a couple of reminders in my life. I was a little younger. You can’t make that mistake again and that’s something that I have to strive for.” Is he dating now? “Here and there.”
Last summer, while he was casually seeing Brazilian supermodel Ms Adriana Lima, as you do – they were introduced via Mr Brady’s wife and fellow Brazilian supermodel Ms Gisele Bündchen – Mr Edelman was hit with a paternity suit by a Swedish model, Ms Ella Rose, an on-off girlfriend. He is now father to eight-month-old Lily, who lives with her mother in Los Angeles. Mr Edelman has a place nearby where he has been based for the off-season. “I spend as much time as I can with her,” he says. “We’re very close and it’s been an awesome time, my first off-season with a child. It’s been an unbelievable experience to see some little creature that looks like you doing things for the very first time. She’s [my] little twin.”
While fatherhood was unexpected and the circumstances aren’t straightforward, Mr Edelman has embraced it. “Yeah, I mean it’s 2017,” he says. “Anytime something’s new, there’s always going to be a learning curve. I go to her mother’s house and I hang out with her there in her home so she gets to see me there, and then I put her to bed every night when I am here.”
He’s enjoying fatherhood so much, he’s even started writing children’s books. He has published his first, Flying High, “a gripping tale of perseverance, passion and acorns”, which is semi-autobiographical. It’s about a squirrel named Jules who learns to overcome his physical limitations through hard work and the assistance of a goat named Tom. (In terms of quarterbacks, Mr Brady is considered the GOAT, the greatest of all time.) It’s supposed to inspire kids to work hard. “It’s about being relentless and surrounding yourself with good people and working hard and not hearing the naysayers,” says Mr Edelman. He’s planning to turn it into a cartoon and is already working on a follow-up book, based on this year’s Super Bowl. Has he read Flying High to Lily yet? “She has the book, but I want to wait until she can actually understand it, where I can say, ‘This is Dada.’”
For now, though, his focus must shift to preparing for the new season. “I have two personalities,” he says. “I like to have fun, but once I am playing football, I am intensely serious.” This season is expected to be Mr Brady’s swansong. He turned 40 this week (3 August). “It’s a special bond,” says Mr Edelman. “This will be our ninth year together. I’ve been blessed to play with the best of all time. I’ve latched on to him because of the similarities of our stories. He’s always been the underdog, had to go the long road, always outworked people. We’ve always had a lot in common and with the time we’ve spent together on the field during the season and off the field training in the off- seasons, he’s like a brother, like a best friend. I wouldn’t want to play for any other quarterback.”