PHOENIX – Seven Januarys ago, Adalius Thomas was a rookie Baltimore Raven playing mostly on special teams in the AFC Championship Game.
So, when his team won, Thomas naturally assumed he'd be taking part in the Super Bowl two weeks later.
Then he got the news.
"I got deactivated … I think I even cried," Thomas recalled with more than a hint of regret in his voice. But he quickly recovered from feeling sorry for himself.
"They took my helmet because I was going to run onto the field … But by the time I get older, I'll tell all my grandkids I made all the tackles," he said with a hearty laugh.
This Sunday in Arizona, Thomas will get his first chance to run out onto a Super Bowl field when he suits up for the New England Patriots. He admits his adrenaline will be pumping higher than usual.
Right before kickoff, he explained, is when he normally gets the feeling of butterflies in his stomach.
"You try to hold it off," he added. "I try not to get too excited too early, but you get nervous, butterflies. It's not like a bad nervous, it's just kind of like butterflies right before the game. I'm sure in this game, you'll have a little more than normally. If you don't, you're probably not human.
"But after the kickoff, and all the cameras go off, you know, and the extra lights from all the flashbulbs on the cameras, I think everything, after the first hit, settles down."
Thomas figured he'd have another chance at the big game sooner or later.
"Being that young, you're like, 'Oh man, it's going to be easy to get back.' And here I am, eight years later, back at it and understanding how hard it is to get here. What a team effort it is. And all the hard work and dedication it takes to get here."
Much has changed for Thomas since his inaugural Super Bowl experience. For one, he's more than just a special teams role player. He's an integral part of New England's seasoned linebacking corps.
He'll also have several family members in attendance, not just to see him play, but also his distant cousin, New York Giants DL Justin Tuck.
"It'll be a little different because he's not on offense," Thomas observed. "If he was on offense, there'd probably be a little more smack talking. I wish him luck anytime, except for this week. His family's here, my family will be here. It'll be bittersweet for one family.
"We talked a little bit [this past week], but not a whole lot. Like normal. I'm pretty sure he has a lot on his plate, as well as I do, with tickets and who's coming here, and plane flights. But I'm pretty sure we'll get together the next couple of nights, or at least talk on the phone and say something."
Wiser, more mature, and in a position where he knows he'll be playing in the biggest game in football, Thomas is savoring the moment.
"Right now, you really enjoy all the press conferences, all the questions … I'm pretty sure I'll get some silly questions between now and tomorrow [Media Day]. But, you know, it's all in fun, and you just really try to remember everything because it's something that you'll never get to do again."
With more than a dozen reporters and photographers huddled around his podium at the Super Bowl Media Center in downtown Phoenix Monday afternoon, a jovial Thomas appeared to relish the attention – a potential distraction he didn't have to deal with in his first Super Bowl with Baltimore.
"I think you have to deserve that attention. It just goes to show, how with hard work and dedication, you can get and earn the right to be on a podium like this. I was a rookie, I was a sixth-round pick. [Tom] Brady and I were [drafted] together. How crazy is that. We were in the same round. I think he even got picked after me. That's just how crazy it is."
In a way, Thomas is a rookie all over again, this being his first year with the Patriots. And the poetic justice isn't lost on Thomas.
"We played the Giants the first time I made it. Now, the second time I made it, we're playing the Giants again, and hopefully we can get the same result. It'll be very interesting the see how it comes out.
"As a rookie, you just wanted to get out there and just do something to feel like you were a part of something."
Seven Januarys later, Thomas is a big part of something. And if the Patriots win this Sunday, he'll be part of something very, very big.