REPORTING FROM ATLANTA — Julian Edelman was six months into his New England Patriots career in the fall of 2009, a tentative rookie unsure where he fit in or if he had the chops to cut it in the NFL, when he bumped into coach Bill Belichick during a late-night walk out of the team’s practice facility.
“I had said maybe three words to him before that,” a bleary eyed Edelman recalled early Monday, just hours after the Patriots’ 13-3 Super Bowl win over the Rams and a victory celebration that went into the wee hours of the morning.
“I had seen him on the treadmill watching film at 10 o’clock at night, and I go, ‘Coach, you sure like football, huh?’ And he goes, ‘It beats being a plumber … see ya tomorrow.’
“At the time, he was a three-time Super Bowl-winning head coach and a two-time Super Bowl-winning assistant. You see guys do that, and it’s gonna rub off on you. If it doesn’t, then you’re probably not gonna be there.”
Belichick is now a six-time Super Bowl-winning head coach, tying the legendary George Halas and Curly Lambeau for the most NFL titles, and Patriots pass-thrower Tom Brady, 41, is a six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
The work ethic of both clearly rubbed off on Edelman, because not only is the slot receiver still here 10 years after the Patriots selected him in the seventh round out of Kent State, he’s a three-time Super Bowl champion himself.
The sure-handed and elusive Edelman won the award by finding enough seams and soft spots in an otherwise stout Rams defense to catch 10 passes for 141 yards in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, bringing his three-game playoff total to 26 receptions for 388 yards, an average of 14.9 yards per catch.
Before Belichick praised Edelman for his tenacity and persistence in going from a small-college dual-threat quarterback with virtually no pass-catching experience to an elite NFL receiver and Super Bowl MVP, he wanted to clear one thing up.
“First of all, I think Julian might have misquoted me,” Belichick said. “I mean, I have a ton of respect for plumbers. I can’t even turn the water on myself, so those people do a great job. I think I said ‘It beats working.’
“But I just can’t say enough about our football team. Certainly, Julian epitomizes the work ethic, the mental toughness, the physical toughness, the determination and will and just an extraordinary ability to perform under pressure. We have so many guys who do that well in so many different ways.”
Those traits jumped out at Belichick when he watched a tape of Kent State’s 48-3 loss to then-third-ranked Ohio State during Edelman’s junior year in 2007.
“He didn’t have a lot of blocking and they were getting killed, but what you saw in that game was how competitive he was, how hard he was to tackle, and how tough he was even when they were three or four touchdowns behind,” Belichick said. “He played the game with an intensity that was hard for them to handle.”
Belichick credited Rick Gosselin, a former Dallas Morning News sportswriter, with providing the initial tip on Edelman.
“He followed the draft very closely, and at one point he said to me, ‘You might want to take a look at this quarterback at Kent State — I don’t think he can play quarterback, but he’s a pretty good player,’ ” Belichick said.
“So we kind of got going on him a little bit and we were like, ‘OK, what would we do with Julian? Is he a receiver, a punt returner, a defensive back, maybe a guy who could play multiple positions in the kicking game?’ ”
The Patriots worked out the 5-foot-10, 198-pound Edelman twice and selected him with the 232nd pick of the 2009 draft, unsure how his skills would translate to the NFL. They played him at defensive back, special teams and as a punt returner. He eventually settled in at receiver, though he still returns punts.
After Sunday night’s game, Edelman ranks second behind Hall of Famer Jerry Rice with 115 career post-season receptions for 1,412 yards.
Edelman’s big game capped a comeback. He missed the 2017 season after undergoing surgery on a torn knee ligament, and he was suspended for the first four games this season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Edelman has declined to say what substance it was that led to the positive test, but has acknowledged he was “definitely accountable” for the penalty.
“Nobody has worked harder in my career than Julian to develop his skills and craft in positions that he really didn’t have any background in,” Belichick said. “He’s truly in the mold of the great versatile Patriots, Troy Brown, Mike Vrabel, guys like that. It’s so rewarding to see what he’s achieved and to be recognized like he was [Sunday] night.”