It is theme week across SB Nation in honor of the underdog. The Patriots, of course, have had their fair share of underdog stories through the years, and today we will kick things off with an ode to some of them.
The New England Patriots did not enter their Super Bowl 51 bout against the Atlanta Falcons as an underdog: the team had won the championship just two years earlier, and was coming off two dominant playoff victories and a 14-2 regular season to secure its spot in the title game for a seventh time in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era. All in all, the Patriots’ 2016 squad may very well be one of the best and most complete team they have ever assembled.
And yet, Matthew Slater’s pregame speech to a select group of players — running backs Dion Lewis and James White, wide receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, and safety Patrick Chung — did not mention any of this. Instead, the veteran sang an ode to the underdog and the journey that each member of his audience had to travel before arriving at this point and as cornerstone players on a team fighting for Super Bowl win.
“Fellas, as we go out here, I want you all think about the story — your story. D-Lew. Traded. Cut. J-Dub. Couldn’t even get on the field your rookie year. Dola. Walk-on. You [Edelman]. No position. PC. Had to go to another team. Come back. Now you’re one of the best safeties in the league. Remember the journey fellas. It all led to this,” Slater told his five teammates in the huddle before the game against the 11-5 NFC champions.
Slater, like the other men in that huddle, did also not have an easy road to get to this point: a former fifth-round draft pick, he offered little at his primary position of wide receiver and in turn had to leave his mark in the kicking game while also occasionally helping out on defense. Given his background, the team captain fit in well with the other men in that group — from players who struggled with injury and an inability to find consistent playing time, to former draft busts and depth players.
Slater’s speech honored them and their underdog stories, and in hindsight served as a perfect buildup for what was to come: New England struggled for most of the first three quarters of the game against the Falcons and at one point found itself down 28-3. In the fourth quarter and due to contributions by the six men in the huddle, however, the team went on a rally for the ages before winning the game 34-28 in overtime.
The spirit of perseverance that allowed Slater, Edelman and company to reach the Super Bowl in the first place — both from a team perspective and an individual one — was the same that helped them overcome their 25-point deficit to eventually capture the Super Bowl. Remember the journey.