FOXBOROUGH — During halftime of Sunday’s Patriots-Saints game, retired wide receiver Julian Edelman burst out of the tunnel, sprinted the length of the field, and, upon reaching the end zone, put his hand to his ear, jumped up, and pumped his fist.
The sequence is one Patriots fans know well, as Edelman followed that exact routine before kickoff of nearly every game at Gillette Stadium.
But almost a year has passed since Edelman took the field in uniform. The three-time Super Bowl champion played his final NFL game in October 2020, underwent a procedure on his left knee, and announced his retirement six months later.
So when the Patriots decided to honor Edelman’s 12-year career, he couldn’t help but make his usual entrance for old time’s sake.
Edelman was then greeted by his 4-year-old daughter Lily and Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who had prepared remarks for the occasion.
“Playing professional football is hard, but the great ones always make it look easy,” Kraft said. “For more than a decade, Julian Edelman was one of the greatest. He had a knack for making improbable catches possible, creating space when there was none, and constantly moving the chains.
“He was quick to get open, fearless across the middle, and elusive after the catch. One of the things that made him a fan favorite, here in New England, he was tough as nails.”
Edelman, who sported a gray hoodie with cut-off sleeves, then took the microphone to address the full-capacity crowd.
“I want to take a little time to thank the Kraft family, coach [Bill] Belichick, and all my teammates,” Edelman said. “I miss them to death. And you guys, the fans, you guys have taken me and my family, and you brought us into your homes and you welcomed us. We lived you guys, we breathed you guys, and we’ll always die you guys.”
Prior to kickoff, Edelman said hello to Belichick as well as some of his former teammates. Belichick did not participate in the halftime ceremony because he was in the locker room, but he saluted Edelman earlier in the week.
“He had a tremendous career,” Belichick said Friday. “He had tremendous production in every area, receiving and running after catch, punt returns, and was a good blocker. Really tough, competitive kid — right up there at the top of the guys that I’ve coached.”
“It’ll be great to see Julian, assuming that he doesn’t like roast me or get into a big impersonation, but it’ll be great to see him again and recognize him for the great career that he had here and how much he meant to this team, this organization, and how much he stepped up for us in big games, you know, year after year, week after week.”
Edelman, 35, is now enjoying his role as an analyst on “Inside the NFL.” He also is working on developing two shows, a docu-series and a scripted comedy, with his production company, Coast Productions.
Don’t expect him to follow in the footsteps of former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who retired in March 2019 only to return to action a year later and team up with their good friend Tom Brady in Tampa.
“Retiring as a Patriot, it’s like a dream,” Edelman said. “I always loved the guys that played on one team. For a football player to have an entire career on one team with one franchise, I feel like it’s a pretty cool thing.”
Nicole Yang can be reached at email@example.com.