At the conclusion of the 1984 season, New England Patriots end Julius Adams, the oldest active defensive lineman in the National Football League, announced that “number 85 will play in ’85.”
At 36, Mr. Adams had been with the Patriots since being drafted out of Texas Southern University in 1971. After putting off retirement, he played a prominent role on the team that won the 1985 AFC championship and made the franchise’s first trip to the Super Bowl.
“Julius was a coach’s dream, a teammate’s dream, and an opponent’s worst nightmare. He was like a coach on the field,” recalled Ed Khayat, New England’s defensive line coach that championship season. “And he had the utmost respect of his teammates because he was a leader in every sense of the word.”
The 6-foot-3-inch, 270 pound Mr. Adams played in the Pro Bowl in 1980 and received the team’s Jim Lee Hunt Memorial Award that year and in 1982 as its outstanding lineman. He was also named to the Patriots’ 35th and 50th anniversary teams.
A college and high school coach after retiring as player, Mr. Adams died March 24 while in hospice care. He was 67 and lived in Irmo, S.C.
Mr. Adams suffered a stroke last October, according to his son Keith of Atlanta, a linebacker who played for the Philadelphia Eagles against the victorious Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005.
“Deep down inside, I’m still a Patriot,” Mr. Adams told the Philadelphia Inquirer prior to that Patriots-Eagles matchup. He added, though, that he would “have to go with the Eagles, because my son is playing for the Eagles.”
Keith recalled that the night before the game, his father told him how proud he was to be part of just the third father and son combination to play in a Super Bowl. “And he said it was amazing that it was against his former team,” said Keith, who was the defensive coordinator last year for the Georgia Prep Sports Academy football team. Mr. Adams worked alongside him as defensive line coach.
“He came back to coach with me and I will always hold that time together close to my heart,” Keith said. “The players called him Pops and he made a difference in their lives. It was important for him to give back to the game.”
A graduate of the former Ballard-Hudson High School in Macon, Ga., where he will be inducted posthumously into the city’s Sports Hall of Fame, Julius Thomas Adams Jr. made an immediate impression on Texas Southern senior captain Coger Coverson.
“I had to block him in practice when he came in as a freshman and I could see he was something special. Julius had everything going for him,” Coverson said. “It did not surprise me that he was a success as a pro.”
College teammates of Mr. Adams included the late Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Ernie Holmes, a close friend.
Drafted in the second round by the Patriots, Mr. Adams was nicknamed “The Jewel” and was named to the UPI All-Rookie Team. He had a career high 83 tackles in 1983 when he also registered eight quarterback sacks. He played 206 career regular-season games, third all-time on the team.
“Dad’s favorite mementos were the team pictures, not the individual awards or accolades,” said his son, who attended Super Bowl XX in New Orleans as a youngster when the Patriots lost to the Chicago Bears, 46-10.
Despite that defeat, “there was a lot to enjoy in New England,” Mr. Adams told the Globe in 2005. “You take and remember the good times, and even the bad can’t spoil it.”
Linebackers Steve Nelson and Andre Tippett said Mr. Adams was unparalleled when it came to conditioning, and to mentoring younger players such as Garin Veris, New England’s other starting defensive end in the 1986 Super Bowl.
“Julius was a high-character guy. I looked up to him,” said Nelson, a Patriots Hall of Famer. “He had been with some Patriots teams that weren’t very good and he was really important in turning the mentality of our team around.”
Nelson said that whether you were a starter or a backup, “he always showed you respect and made you feel important.”
Mr. Adams “never rested on his laurels. He played with passion and was a motivator,” said Tippett, who is now the team’s executive director of community affairs and an inductee to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“He was always trying to outwork the other guys, even toward the end of his career,” Tippett said. “He also had a great feel early in a game for the tendencies of opposing players and for when the ball would be snapped, and he would tip us off.”
Earlier in his life, Mr. Adams owned a farm in Georgia.
“He used to talk about working on the farm, which I’m sure kept him in even better shape – and he was always in fantastic shape,” Tippett said.
Khayat concurred, saying that “no other lineman could keep up with him in the gassers” – a grueling repetitive conditioning drill in which players run from sideline to sideline and touch their elbows to the ground.
Mr. Adams retired after the 1986 Super Bowl, but then came back to play a final season with the Patriots in 1987. Among his coaching positions were stints at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., and Fort Valley State University in Georgia.
A service has been held for Mr. Adams, whose first marriage ended in divorce. In addition to his son Keith, Mr. Adams leaves his wife, the former Terri Rice; three other children from his previous marriage, Julius III, Chris, and Simone; and nine grandchildren.
Harold Jackson, a former Patriots teammate and the team’s wide receivers coach in 1985, asked Mr. Adams to join him as defensive coordinator at Benedict College when Jackson was named head coach.
“Julius was the elder statesman of that ’85 team and one of the best physical specimens I’ve ever seen,” Jackson said. “He did a super job at Benedict. The kids loved him and he stressed to them that football will be gone in a few years, but you will take your education to the grave.”
Raymond Berry, the Patriots head coach from 1984-89, said veteran leaders like Mr. Adams were “the backbone of our team. Julius went out and did his job professionally and unselfishly and in a masterful way, and was a real force.”
Berry added that “if you were trying to shape the ideal personality and makeup of a teammate, Julius would be the model.”