Throughout my tenure writing for Pats Pulpit, I have, on select few occasions, found myself compelled to dedicate a long, sappy, overly sentimental article to a player on the day he finally decides to hang them up for good. Vince Wilfork, Tedy Bruschi, and Kevin Faulk immediately come to mind — heart and soul type guys, fan favorites who helped bring the team multiple championships and fully entrenched themselves as one of the ultimate leaders of the franchise. Players that came up through the New England Patriots system, signed multiple contracts with the team, and absolutely dominated at their position.
With the news that Julian Edelman has officially announced his retirement, I once again find myself in the bittersweet position of paying tribute to one of the best players of the Patriots Dynasty 2.0.
The news isn’t overly shocking; not only is Edelman about to turn 35, he has also been battling knee issues for years. Multiple surgeries and rehabs take their toll on a player, and when you’re the kind of receiver that makes his nut off of sharp cuts, whip routes, option reads, and stopping on a dime, there’s just no way you’re going to be the same guy once your knees start to betray you. Perhaps if he was more of a one cut, straight line speed receiver, he might have been able to eke out one more season, but honestly why risk it? That he’s able to literally walk away from the game as opposed to hobbling painfully away from the game is a real blessing, and I for one am happy to see him go out like this.
Like many other Patriots greats before him, Edelman’s story is one that epitomizes what makes this team so special — he was a late round flyer that had to learn a new position on the go, who took advantage of the opportunities he was given, and never once looked back once he had his shot. He finishes his 11 year career with 620 receptions for 6,822 yards, behind only Wes Welker in terms of Patriots catch leaders. He’s also 2nd place to another receiver you may have heard of, Jerry Rice, in terms of postseason grabs. Edelman also racked up almost 2,000 yards off of punt returns, has 413 rushing yards, two forced fumbles, 25 total tackles, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
But honestly, what really made Edelman so special isn’t going to show up on any spreadsheet. Sure, the internet is lousy with Edelman highlights, and you don’t have to look far to find the usual suspects. The Super Bowl Catch against the Falcons, Any number of punt return TDs. A full diving extension into the end zone to go up 28-24 against the Broncos after opening the game 24-0. The Thanksgiving Night kickoff fumble return for a TD against the Jets. The pivot route for what would be the winning TD in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks. Edelman to Amendola against the Ravens. His Super Bowl MVP performance against the Rams. I could go on and on and still miss a bunch of epic moments. Those were all great, and I know I’ll never miss the chance to watch me some Edelman. But it was the leadership. The intensity. The blocks he threw. The number of times he laid himself out to spring a runner for a big gain. The example he set. That’s where greatness is found.
It’s going to be weird knowing that we’ll never see Edelman in a Patriots uniform again, but what a privilege it has been to root for him this past decade plus. So what I’d like to do here is touch on some of the lesser known Edelman moments that rounded out his career. You expect to see Edelman starring in his own highlight reel, but you don’t really have to look far to see him show up in others as well.
- During a 2009 preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles, rookie Julian Edelman took a punt 75 yards to the house in what would become something of a calling card for him during his tenure in the NFL. As the play unfolded, Bill Belichick felt compelled to walk over to Wes Welker, who wasn’t playing in that game as he nursed a hamstring, to ask him if he had any idea who Wally Pipp was. Pipp is most famous for being the guy who was replaced at 1st base by Lou Gherig, who went on to start 2,130 consecutive games. A very subtle Belichick burn that would turn out to be pretty damn accurate; if you ever want to spark a fierce debate, sit two Patriots fans down and ask them whether Edelman or Welker was better.
- Down 24-14 to the Seahawks with 11 minutes left in the 2014 NFL season, the Patriots are facing a 3rd and 14 at their own 28 yard line. They don’t convert here, they’ll have to punt, taking more time off the clock and making an already daunting two score comeback against a historically great defense all but impossible. As the play unfolds Tom Brady steps up in the pocket, sets his feet, and fires an absolute dart to Edelman, who makes the grab before getting absolutely leveled by Kam Chancellor. He was down by contact at the hit, but got up anyway and ran for 15 more nullified yards. Only after the play was officially whistled dead did Edelman stop, take a knee, and allow what must have been the unfathomable pain to set in.
- One of Rob Gronkowski’s best career highlights, in my opinion, is a 26 yard catch and run against the Indianapolis Colts where he truck-sticked four or five defenders on his way to a leaping touchdown that completely put the game away. After dancing around on the sidelines, Gronk can famously be heard saying something to the effect of “I don’t even know how I did that — I juked like five guys there.” While I too have no idea how a man of Gronk’s size was able to make that run, I can certainly tell you what helped: Julian Edelman laying out Mike Adams to spring Gronkowski for the score. And then shoving Adams to the ground just to send a message.
- In a 2011 Monday Night game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the injury-depleted Patriots have Julian Edelman out as a nickel corner as much out of necessity as anything else. Early in the third quarter, Edelman calls out the offensive blocking scheme and shifts the line over. The play ended up being a toss left, away from Edelman, that the defense blew up in the backfield. And just for the hell of it, Edelman crashed the line and collided with an offensive lineman. What a 7th round quarterback-turned-receiver-turned DB did to correctly diagnose an offensive package, we may never know.
Julian Edelman will be eligible for the Patriots Hall of Fame in a few years. He’ll be in on the first ballot and it won’t even be close.
Thanks, Julian. It has been, to quote someone for whom I have nothing but love and respect, a hell of a story.