MINNEAPOLIS -- Tell me what player on the Patriots these quotes are about.
“He’s relentless,” said Brandin Cooks.
“He’s just constantly getting after it,” Rob Gronkowski said. “Nobody works harder.”
“As tough as they come. A football player in every sense of the word. And his work ethic is as good as I’ve ever been around,” added Chris Hogan.
Even those who have been studying this player in preparation for Super Bowl 52 can see that work ethic shine on tape.
“Dude just knows how to play football,” said Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills. “He keeps coming. He’s relentless.”
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Hmmm. Relentless. Isn’t that the title of Julian Edelman’s autobiography (which just so happens to be written by our own Tom Curran)? Why yes, yes it is. But that’s not who the Patriots and Eagles are talking about. No, it’s that “other” pint-sized slot machine, Danny Amendola. And for good reason. At the age of 32, Amendola may be better than ever, which when you consider where he came from, makes his story so compelling.
As you know by now, Amendola went undrafted coming out of Texas Tech. Meanwhile, Edelman actually heard his name called a year later, in the 2009 draft as a 7th rounder. Bill Belichick called him direct, telling Edelman ‘we don’t know what we’ll do with you but we’ll figure it out.’ Eventually, the Patriots did, but only after Amendola - by then on his fourth team - had his body give out just as he was ready to pile up 100 catch seasons as his predecessor and, in many way football idol, Wes Welker, had done.
“That was really frustrating,” said Amendola. “But that wasn’t an end by any means.”
When given his chance to slide into Welker’s role, Edelman grabbed hold of the job and never let go. Meanwhile Amendola had to scratch and claw to carve out a role - any role - on the team that had given him a hefty sum to leave St. Louis. He’s taken pay cut after pay cut, but has proven his value to the franchise over and over again, making some of the biggest plays in team history. But getting to this point - to becoming Danny “Playoff” Amendola was anything but easy. Then again, maybe this was the way it was destined to go all along. After all, few are more prepared for the daily grind.
“A lot of mental toughness goes into playing in this league,’ said Amendola. “There’s a lot of doubters. There’s a lot of haters. There’s a lot of great opponents you have to go against. It makes it tough.”
Though the Texas Tech grad didn’t hear his name called on that NFL Draft weekend in 2008, he wasn’t short on offers. But to him, there was only one team he wanted to earn his stripes with: the Dallas Cowboys.
“I came out of college, moved in with my brother in Dallas,” he recalled. “All my friends were in Dallas. it was the only thing I knew at the time and looking back at it now, I learned a lot.”
What he learned was that he was good enough to open some eyes but eventually not good to make the Cowboy roster as a rookie. After being without a team for 5 months - essentially an eternity for an undrafted guy - the Eagles felt compelled to take a shot, squirreling away Amendola on their practice squad for 9 months. While happy with the opportunity, there were some dark days filled with doubt. What if it never happens?
“Not playing in the games on Sundays after putting the work in during the week and not feeling like you’re getting anything out of it,” he said of those days on the practice squad. “Then there’s the uncertainties of your future really. You don’t really know, not when you’re the last man on the depth chart and a rookie in the league.”
Amendola’s work ethic, incredible short area quickness, and soft hands got the Rams to sign him off the Eagles practice squad. Finally Amendola would get his shot. He was so impressive that then St Louis teammate Chris Long dubbed him “White Lightning. There was an 85-catch season in 2010 before a torn tricep cost Amendola all but one game of the 2011 season. He rebounded the following year, reeling in 63 passes over 11 games before the injury bug bit again. Despite the rehabs and individual disappointment, Amendola remembers that time fondly.
“I’ve always been very grateful to wear cleats to work, wear a helmet, run around and play ball. The fact that they were paying me to do that was a bonus.”
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Fast forward to Tuesday, January 30th, 2018. Amendola sits at a podium, just a handful of days from his third Super Bowl trip in four seasons with the Pats. The room is crowded but aside from Tom Brady - THE Tom Brady - no one has more cameras on him than that undrafted kid from Texas Tech, that player that just wasn’t good enough to make the Cowboys or Eagles, the high-energy pinball that the Rams decided they just didn’t want to pay. Amendola has earned this moment, and all the other successes that are on his resume and what he believes are the many more to come.
“I put a lot of hard work into this craft, into playing ball. It feels good.”
He smiled. He has every reason to.