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Retracing Edelman's improbable rise on 'A Football Life'

NFL Films takes a closer look at the football journey of Patriots great Julian Edelman.

Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) hauls in a pass during Super Bowl 51 against the Atlanta Falcons.
Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) hauls in a pass during Super Bowl 51 against the Atlanta Falcons.

Julian Edelman's episode of A Football Life premiered on Friday on NFL Network, providing a fitting documentary of one of the most inspirational careers to come out of New England over the last two decades.

Featuring a wide array of interviews with coaches and teammates, including Tom Brady, Danny Amendola, Matthew Slater, Rob Gronkowski, Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick among others, Edelman's Football Life is put into perspective as a relentless undersized kid from the Bay Area who just kept looking for a way to keep playing the game he loved.

Edelman's relationship with his dad Frank is at the forefront throughout the piece, from his early days of pushing young Julian on the Pop Warner practice field, to seeing them reunite after Edelman's first Super Bowl title post-game to share a moment of accomplishment, as the Matthew Slater pointed out, "There's no Julian without Frank."

From his California roots, Edelman's career took him through the junior college route, with a stop a the College of San Mateo that opened an opportunity to play Division 1 at Kent State. After a successful career with the Golden Flashes at quarterback, Edelman eyed a jump to the NFL thanks to one special skill.

"Everybody's looking for superior qualities that they can plug in," said agent Don Yee, "And Julian's was just a superior short area quickness."

"He couldn't throw the ball but he was hard to tackle and very competitive and very tough," said head coach Bill Belichick, as the Patriots used a 7th-round selection in 2009's Draft to select Edelman.

Thrown into the fire behind Randy Moss and Wes Welker upon his arrival, Edelman quickly embraced the job of punt returner as a way to stand out, even returning a punt for a touchdown in his first preseason game that came against the Eagles.

Eventually Edelman would build off of that as a receiver, turning in a promising 37-catch rookie season that saw him fill in for Welker in a couple of spots, including the playoff loss to the Ravens after Welker tore his ACL in the season finale. But injuries and a loaded depth chart would continue to keep Edelman's career from taking full flight.

In three ensuing seasons he'd have just 32 total catches and miss 14 games to injury.

"Julian was almost cut more often than any other player I've ever coached," recalled former Patriots receivers coach Chad O'Shea.

Still, Edelman continued to attach himself at the hip to Tom Brady, as the quarterback helped mold Edelman from a dynamically quick athlete to a polished professional wide receiver.

"He was one of the most dependable players I ever played with," said Brady. "I think his heart and his toughness will forever go down as what his character is all about and that's what we love about him. Not to mention he's a pain in the ass too."

As his rookie deal with the Patriots came to an end and with Welker moving on to Denver, the opportunity was there for Edelman to take over as Brady's number-one target. After taking just one free agent visit with the Giants, Edelman returned to the PAts on a one-year, veteran-minimum deal, only to find the team had meanwhile given slot receiver Danny Amendola a lucrative five-year contract.

"I'm not gonna lie, I was pissed off, you're going to take my keys to the Cadilac, dog?" recalled Edelman of his soon-to-be close friend.

"I knew Julian was going to be a little bit hurt about it but it didn't take long to realize we could do damage together," said Amendola.

2013 proved to be the springboard, as Edelman exploded for 105 catches on 151 targets, staying healthy for a full 16-game season for the first time in his career.

"The foundation I had with Tom, I knew what he liked, I knew what he wanted, so I was confident going into that year," said Edelman.

"Now he could run into a defense, separate from a pro defensive back, catch the ball and then make people miss," said Brady. "He ended up being self-made in every aspect. When he got his chance to shine he took advantage of it."

The next season would prove to be one for the ages, as Edelman and Amendola helped lead the Patriots to their first Super Bowl title in 10 years, with Edelman contributing nine catches and the game-winning touchdown against the Seahawks, along with a critical catch on 3rd-and-long to keep New England's comeback hopes alive.

That was just the start of Edelman's "Super" contributions, as he'd add one of the most unbelievable catches in Super Bowl history two years later against the Falcons, snagging a deflected pass mere inches from the ground as the Patriots attempted a near-impossible comeback from a 25-point deficit.

"I think that play is a true signature play for Julian, his competitiveness, his aggressiveness, his physical and mental toughness to fight and compete and ultimately concentrate to secure the ball in an almost impossible situation," said Belichick.

Edelman saved his best for last. Coming off a knee injury that cost him the 2017 season, the veteran receiver went off in his final Super Bowl, collecting 10 catches for 141 yards and earning the game's MVP.

Edelman's episode of A Football Life is a must-watch for Patriots fans, featuring never before seen footage from behind the scenes of his career, along with commentary from the coaches and players who surrounded him on his incredible journey.

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