Brandon Bolden remembered wincing from the sideline when he saw and heard the hit.
Julian Edelman hauled in a pass in the middle of the field during Super Bowl 49 and absorbed a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit from Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. The feisty Patriots receiver responded by popping right up and running 10 more yards, refusing to believe he had been ruled down.
“That just confirmed that he was the toughest S.O.B. I ever saw,” Bolden said a couple of years after that 2015 game, which ended with the Patriots winning their fourth Super Bowl.
It was one of countless memorable plays Edelman made during a 12-year Patriots career that came to an end Monday when the rambunctious and rugged receiver retired, citing a knee injury he suffered last season.
Edelman, 34, released a touching and emotional video on social media late in the afternoon.
“Nothing in my career has ever come easy, and no surprise, this isn’t going to be easy, either. I’ve always said, ‘I’m going to go until wheels come off.’ And, ah, they’ve finally fallen off. Due to an injury last year, I’ll be making my official announcement of my retirement from football. It was a hard decision, but the right decision for me and my family and I’m honored and so proud to be retiring a Patriot,’' he said, sitting in a director’s chair inside Gillette Stadium.
“There are a million people I have to thank. Mr. Kraft, the Kraft family, I’ve learned so much from you on and off the field. Coach Belichick giving me an opportunity — I’ll always love you for that. My teammates — we’ve gone to war. We’ve lost some, we’ve won some. You guys will always be my brothers. To all my coaches I played under, I appreciate all your insight, all your hard work, all your knowledge. To the entire Patriots organization, from the meal ladies to the people who clean up after us, to the people in the hallways, the training staff, the strength staff. We share so many awesome memories that I’ll never forget.
“And of course, my family. You guys have always had my back. It’s been the best 12 years of my life. It’s a hell of a run. And I can’t forget you, Patriots Nation. You welcomed me and my family to a region that we did not know. We didn’t know. But now, I’m one of you. I’m going to leave you guys with two words, Foxborough Forever.”
Edelman’s contract was officially terminated with a failed physical designation. His retirement creates about $2.5 million in salary cap space.
Edelman has been dealing with chronic knee injuries the past few seasons. He missed the final 10 games last season after undergoing a knee procedure. The injury wasn’t initially considered season ending, but he was not able to turn the corner in his rehabilitation.
One of the most decorated players in franchise history, Edelman, known as the “Flying Squirrel,” was drafted in the seventh round in 2009 after a remarkable career as an undersized quarterback at Kent State.
He was converted to receiver in New England after wisely turning down an offer to play quarterback for the CFL’s British Columbia Lions, and quickly made his name as a standout special teamer and one of the best punt returners in the game.
For his career, playoffs included, he returned 216 punts for 2,429 yards — and 11.3-yard average — and four touchdowns.
In 2013, his fifth season, he emerged, kicking off a run of six seasons in which he was league’s top slot receiver and Tom Brady’s most trusted weapon. He collected a career-high 105 catches for 1,056 yards and 6 touchdowns.
He also had seasons of 92, 98, and 100 catches, though he missed the 2017 season after tearing his ACL during an exhibition game in Detroit.
Edelman came back from that injury with a vengeance.
He sat out the first four games of 2019 for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, then made 74 catches for 850 yards and 6 TDS.
The 5-foot-11-inch, 200-pounder turned it up a notch in the playoffs, collecting 26 catches for 388 yards. He capped his comeback campaign by catching 10 passes for 141 yards and earning MVP honors in New England’s 13-3 win over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
To say Edelman was a clutch performer would be a massive understatement. Consider that of his 738 career receptions, 454 resulted in first downs.
To say Edelman came up biggest on the biggest stage would be an even bigger understatement. He ranks second in career postseason receptions (118) and receiving yards (1,442), trailing only Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, whom he grew up idolizing as a member of his hometown 49ers.
A three-time Super Bowl champion, Edelman made tremendous plays in all three and his finger-tip grab during the club’s historic comeback win in Super Bowl LI win over the Falcons will be remembered as one of the best catches in league history.
“By any measure of what constitutes an elite NFL career — wins, championships, production — Julian has it all,” Belichick said in a statement. “Few players can match Julian’s achievements, period, but considering his professional trajectory and longevity, the group is even more select. It is historic. This is a tribute to his legendary competitiveness, mental and physical toughness and will to excel. Day in and day out, Julian was always the same: all out. Then, in the biggest games and moments, with championships at stake, he reached even greater heights and delivered some of his best, most thrilling performances.’'
Belichick also called Edelman, who once filled in as a defensive back, the “quintessential throwback player.”
For the record, Edelman finished his career with 738 catches for 8,264 yards and 41 TDs.
“Julian Edelman is one of the great success stories in our franchise’s history,” team owner Robert Kraft said in a statement. “His clutch catches in our biggest games and overall toughness made him a fan favorite. Over the past 12 years, I have enjoyed watching him grow as a player, as a person and as a father. In 2019, I had the privilege of traveling to Israel with Julian, which might be the only place where he is more popular than here in New England.”