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McGinley: In celebration of Julian Edelman

| Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The text I received from my dad to our family group chat at 5:21 p.m. on Monday afternoon:

“Edelman’s contract voided by Pats. Failed physical.”

My heart stopped. I immediately picked up my phone to watch the retirement video and tear up at the cheering while a small smile crept onto my face in celebration of all he has done. I then texted a friend here who is also a major Pats fan (and also from New York), and he immediately responded with one word that summed it all up.

“Pain.”

As I am still sitting in that pain, I do not have a snappy “Dear Squirrel” letter to write as I did to Tom Brady, Gronk and Cam Newton. That’s also because I have nothing but respect for Julian Edelman — no quips about abandoning us, resurfacing elsewhere or sucking at his job as I had for the other three, respectively. Instead, I have honest and true respect for Edelman and the career he’s had.

Edelman had 620 receptions for 6822 yards and 36 touchdowns. He broke 400 yards rushing and 100 yards passing with a perfect regular season completion percentage — a testament to his college days. To this day, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft credit Edelman’s ability to make it to the NFL in a different position than he played in college. They both released heartfelt statements on the Patriots’ Instagram wishing him well.

In light of those stats, what Edelman deserves is a celebration of his accomplishments, not a heartbroken letter from me. So, without further ado, here are my top 5 moments from his 12-year career.

In trying to pick these, I watched endless clips of Edelman bobbing and weaving between defenders, breaking tackles and bouncing around men who are whole feet taller than him. The ones I selected are all standout moments, even from all that general excellence. Not one of them asks the same of him but every single one is a testament to his grit and willingness to make the play happen.

No. 5 — Versatility: The Punt Returner

January 2, 2011. Edelman was practically tackled at the six-yard line. He ran into his own teammate trying to back away from a diving Dolphins defender. Then, he proceeded to weave his way through the entire rest of the defense and make it 94 yards to the other end zone for six points and a hop into the bleachers full of cheering Patriots fans.

Not only is it impressive that he was capable of making it all happen, but he got the most stoic head coach (Belichick) to trust him on the field at almost any given offensive moment. He would go on to return 177 punts for 1986 yards and 30 kick-offs for 626 yards. That’s over 2500 yards on special teams alone.

No. 4 — Falling Without the Bone Crush

This subheading twist on the 2020 Taylor Swift song “gold rush” is more than fitting. In a regular-season game against the Bills, two defenders went to take Edelman down and spun into each other. Edelman was briefly caught in the mess but never touched the ground. He sat on one of them, planted his feet and kept running before diving into the end zone.

It’s his awareness of the game here that is so amazing. They can spin him down while he’s bracing for impact, but he’s still aware enough that they don’t get him to the ground. Instead, he lands across their legs and has his wits about him enough to immediately stand up and take off for the touchdown. He pushes through until the final whistle, and while it doesn’t always work (there was a similar situation in which he just couldn’t get up strong enough and his elbow went down), he always tries until that last whistle blows and the ball is truly dead.

No. 3 — Versatility 2: Quarterback Boogaloo

As I mentioned above, Edelman played quarterback in college. He went into the draft as a wide receiver instead and was one of the few players to make the switch successfully, but Josh McDaniels never let him forget his QB skills. In crunch time, McDaniels would often hit the brakes on the Greatest of All Time (Tom Brady, if you’re confused) and instead turn his attention to the former Kent State starter.

This worked six out of six times for five first downs, a touchdown and 128 yards in the regular season.

The two most influential of Edelman’s passes came in 2015 and 2019, both after receiving backwards passes from Tom Brady. This play made a special appearance in the 2015 playoffs, when McDaniels officially used Edelman as a passer for the first time. In 2015, Brady hit Edelman against the sideline, who set his feet and sent a perfect spiral to Danny Amendola for a 51-yard touchdown pass against the Baltimore Ravens. And in 2019, Edelman threw from the 22-yard line to a wide open Phillip Dorsett in the Eagles end zone to win the game. The best part was that, no matter how often the Pats did it, no defense ever expected it, and Edelman executed it so cleanly every time.

No. 2 — Super Bowl MVP, Julian Edelman

This was the best recognition he could have received that day (including winning the Super Bowl). Yes, this was a defense-heavy game and no, there was not a lot of scoring — but that didn’t stop Edelman from standing out. With 10 receptions, Edelman went for 141 receiving yards. That was two receptions and 20 yards more than anyone else on the field. For just the Patriots, Edelman gapped Gronkowski and the rest of the receiving crew by four receptions and 50+ yards.

No one else on that offense deserved it, and the defense worked so cohesively that there was no clear standout there either. Yes, Brady made the receiving plays happen, but No. 12 had an interception, a fumble and no touchdowns on the day. On the other hand, Edelman stood out. Not only was his receiving on point, but he also had two punt returns and one running play.

No. 1 — Can’t Touch This (Read: The Ground)

I will never forget how my heart lurched and my breath hitched at this moment in 2017. It was Super Bowl 51. The Falcons had led for the entire game, and this New England drive would end up going for 91 yards. This would result in the tide changing for the Pats. None of that would have happened had Edelman not pulled this off. The ball left Tom Brady’s hands and bounced off Robert Alford’s hands before hitting his knee and then his shin. Also in the mix were the 5-foot-10 Edelman and two other defensive Falcon players. The deflection should have forced a dead ball or, if anything, an interception for the Falcons. Somehow, Edelman was able to pin the ball against Alford’s foot and then get his other hand under it all within inches of the ball touching the ground.

There was no question, though; the review clearly showed Edelman catch it, and the 23-yard reception was clean. He simply should not have been able to catch it with three defenders there, regardless if they had tipped it. However, his grit came through and he practically manifested the success of the play.

Without it, the Patriots would have been stuck at their own 38-yard line with 2:03 to go instead of at the Falcons’ 41. That’s a very different — and much more daunting — field view, one that I don’t think could have turned the game around in the same way. 34-28 would have been well out of reach without this catch, and this wasn’t even the Super Bowl for which he was named MVP.

His Greatest Achievement  

Aside from Edelman’s unbelievable career, this is, by far, his best achievement to date. I want to take a moment to acknowledge and thank Edelman for using the platform his career built for good. Over his twelve years, Edelman has taken on antisemitism and taken it upon himself to be a direct positive influence on the matter. This devotion strengthened immensely after a direct incident where someone called him a Jewish slur on the field in 2011. From then on, he has said “There’s no room for antisemitism in this world” and become a vocal activist and supporter of both this and other social and political issues like the Black Lives Matter movement. He has also offered to have the “uncomfortable conversations” with others in the limelight — both within the NFL and in other lines of work—to help them, and himself, be better.

Regardless of what you think of the Patriots or Belichick, there is no question Edelman wanted a successful career, and that is what he has had. I am grateful for everything he did for the Patriots, and I look forward to seeing him again in another role, whether on ESPN or as a social activist. Or I’ll take him on social media, just being a dad.

Julian “Squirrel” Edelman,

Pats Nation owes you so much. Thank you and heal well.

Much appreciation,

The woman who is watching her childhood team dissipate.

P.S. If you come back in orange, red and grey in a year, we’re going to have to have a chat.

Please don’t come back in orange, red and grey.

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