THE NFL’S MOST INTREPID WIDE RECEIVER IS A MAN IN A HURRY
JULIAN EDELMAN MAY BE ONE OF THE SHORTEST RECEIVERS IN THE GAME, BUT WITH A SUPER BOWL RING AND OUTSIZE AMBITION, HE’S ABOUT TO BECOME A MAJOR PRESENCE. IF HE CAN ONLY STAY ON HIS FEET. “THERE ARE A LOT OF MEN-CHILDREN OUT THERE, AND WHEN THEY MEET A GUY THEIR OWN SIZE, THEY PANIC. JULES IS DIFFERENT. HE’S JUST KAMIKAZE.”
SIXTY-ONE HOURS AFTER hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy on a makeshift stage in University of Phoenix Stadium, Julian Edelman steps onto the roof of a former troop transport and waves the flag of Patriots Nation. It’s cold, but he’s wearing a T-shirt. He’s yelling. He’s dancing. He’s trending on Twitter. And he’s gamely fielding questions—save the ones about whether he suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter, or about “Sabrina,” the Tinder user who just posted an image showing him asleep in a messy bed under the caption “Just fucked Edelman no lie.”
“Note to self,” he says, laughing, a few days later. “No more selfies while unconscious.”
Edelman spent his first four years in the NFL transforming himself from a run-and-gun quarterback into a hyper-agile x in one of the Patriots’ complex offensive schemes, and another two on bruising crossing routes. Now, post-championship, he’s got a small window, maybe two or three weeks, to make Julian Edelman a thing. Then he needs to get back to the gym. “I can remember, after my last game in college, thinking about becoming a fireman,” says Edelman, whom a pro scout described as “too small and unconventional” when the Patriots took him in the last round of the 2009 NFL draft. Now showered and beardless in the Mandarin Oriental’s 35th-floor lobby in midtown Manhattan, he’s the one on fire.
“What I have to do now,” he says, “is think about this moment and do everything I can to capitalize on this opportunity.”
Edelman, who goes by Jules, has a four-year contract potentially worth $19 million, as well as relationships with Puma and Coachup, a private-trainer-matchmaking start-up, but still lacks major endorsement deals (if you don’t count his gig as a pitchman for Romm Diamonds in Brockton, Mass.). But a star who looks that good enjoying post-coital REM in a stranger’s bed belongs on a billboard for something or other.
Even if he shrugs off compliments with a pinch of cherry Skoal, Jules knows it’s time to be the face of something. He may be “another shortish white dude,” as he puts it, but other shortish white dudes don’t pull models like him or catch like him or have a Super Bowl ring like his.
The moment calls for strategy. “It’s like a test,” he says of being in the public eye. “If you didn’t study, you’re going to be nervous as shit…” Spying Michael Strahan sitting with Chris Rock in the corner of the hotel restaurant, he pauses, considering the potential plays.
Edelman approaches the pair, shaking Strahan’s hand and almost bowing to Rock. It would be too forward to sit down, so he thanks Strahan again for having him on his show earlier in the day, says something about the attention, and backs away. Strahan, who has spent the bulk of his retirement on camera, laughs. “Get used to it,” the Hall of Famer booms. “Just get used to it.” Sitting at a nearby table, Jules makes it clear he’s happy with the interaction—“chris fucking Rock!”—then refocuses. If a voice in his head is reciting Rock’s “no sex in the Champagne room” bit, it’s shouted down by another voice, the one that reminds Edelman, “You don’t have any of this shit unless you play good football.” That voice belongs to his father, Frank Edelman. Jules talks about him with bald-faced admiration. “You know there’s a saying, ‘East side of the tracks’? Well, my dad was from the east side of the freeway on the east side of the tracks,” he says. “You’ve got your financial adviser and your accountant and your marketing people and your friends, but my decisions always come back to my father and me.” It was his father who told him to hang tough in Pop Warner when he was lining up to get mauled by bigger kids from fancier towns. “I’d go to my dad and say, ‘When am I going to grow?’” Julian remembers. “He would say, ‘Son, when you get to be the same size, it’s going to be unfair.’”
“Edelmans don’t mature until they’re 18,” Frank grumbles into the phone. “But he benefited from it because he was never afraid of a bigger guy. There are a lot of men-children out there, and when they meet a guy their own size, they panic. Jules is different. He’s just kamikaze.” Frank gives his son full credit for all the success. “Whatever he’s gotten, he’s gotten himself,” he says, pausing. “I sob when I think about it.”
Still, the Super Bowl win isn’t the end of the story. If Julian doesn’t suffer head trauma at the hands of a special teams gunner, his career could still be cut short by Bill Belichick, the double-edged sword patrolling the sideline in a hoodie. Like every Patriot, every Pats fan, and no one else in America, Edelman talks about “Coach Belichick” with reverence. But he also understands that loyalty is secondary. “If there’s someone out there who’s better or cheaper or something like that, I’ll lose my job,” he says.
A trade would be devastating for Edelman. There are few Qbs—and fewer coaches—who prefer a flyweight shuttle-run specialist to a leggy sprinter. Talented as he is, Edelman suffers from a condition common among receivers: He’s at the mercy of the guy throwing the ball. The fact that Brady, dominant as he may be, is 37 looms large. “It’s a temp job,” he says, then he points across the restaurant. “With Mr. Strahan, you see how he seized opportunities. I guarantee he worked his ass off to get where he’s at and do what he’s doing right now. You look at that and you have nothing but respect.”
Edelman shows his respect quietly, opting not to stop at Strahan’s table on his way out. That doesn’t prevent the former end from watching him move through the restaurant. Whether you’re on the field or on television, there is always someone new gunning for a spot, someone younger and hungrier, ready to work harder than everyone else.
There goes that guy.