ATLANTA — The Patriots’ Julian Edelman was selected as the Super Bowl MVP while helping lift the Patriots to a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night, apparently becoming the first-ever Jewish player to win the honor.
Edelman was forced to watch only as a spectator a year ago as his disappointed Patriots teammates trudged off the field as Super Bowl losers.
Catch after catch in this one, Tom Brady’s favorite wide receiver helped make them winners again as Edelman had 10 receptions for 141 yards.
The two met at midfield with confetti flying, and embraced for several moments — eyes filled with the tears of champions.
“I’m pretty ecstatic,” Edelman said. “I’m emotionally pooped. I’m physically and emotionally pooped.”
The award apparently made Edelman the first-ever Jewish Super Bowl MVP.
Edelman, one of only a few Jewish players in the league, is certainly the most successful, through his role as Brady’s favorite target. The Brady-to-Edelman connection has been a major part of the Patriots’ dominance in recent years, and the pair have now won three Super Bowls together.
Edelman, 32, also is the most outwardly Jewish NFL player, embracing that side of his identity over time. He has a Jewish father but was not raised in the religion, and through the Patriots front office often would defer on questions about his religion.
Congratulations to @Patriots and the Jewish people’s Mega-mensch Robert Kraft for winning his 6th Super Bowl trophy and to Julian Edelman, a gridiron Maccabee, for winning the MVP trophy.
— Amb. Ron Dermer (@AmbDermer) February 4, 2019
He didn’t establish himself as a standout until the 2013 season. Coincidentally or not, it was during his breakout year that Edelman identified as Jewish in an interview with the NFL Network.
Since then, he has shown his Jewish pride on a number of occasions. In a 2014 game, for instance, he wore a pin featuring the Israeli flag. He has tweeted about Jewish holidays. He even went on a Birthright-style trip to Israel, and has written a children’s book that references modern-day Zionism founder Theodor Herzl. After the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in the fall that killed 11, he wore special cleats with Hebrew on them to honor the victims.
In a congratulatory tweet, Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer hailed Edelman as a “gridiron Maccabee,” a reference to the Jewish warriors from the Hanukkah story.
It was an incredibly satisfying ending to a big-time comeback season for Edelman, a guy considered by Brady to be like a little brother — some teammates even jokingly say they have a “bromance” — and widely regarded as one of the greatest slot receivers in league history.
And, he was at it again against the Rams.
Reliable and steady. All night long.
Even when things weren’t working early for the Patriots, Edelman kept the offense going and the clock rolling as a safety valve for Brady. He also had a 13-yard grab during the go-ahead touchdown drive with 7 minutes left in the game.
It has been a long journey back to this point for Edelman, who missed all of last season after tearing a knee ligament in New England’s third preseason game.
“You’ve just got to believe,” he said. “Just gotta believe.”
What he did in this Super Bowl was exactly what the Patriots’ offense was missing in last year’s 41-33 loss to Philadelphia.
Edelman was then forced to sit out the first four games of this season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancers.
And, then, it was uncertain as to whether the 32-year-old receiver would be as productive and effective as he had been throughout his career with the Patriots.
Turned out, he was as good as ever.
Edelman finished the regular season with 74 catches and a team-high 850 receiving yards with six touchdowns. He kept it going through New England’s first two playoffs games, hauling in 16 catches for a team-high 247 yards.
The Patriots led the Rams just 3-0 at halftime, but Edelman was a big reason for that. He had seven of his catches for 93 yards in the first two quarters as New England outgained Los Angeles 195-57.
Brady had won four of the MVP awards in the Patriots’ previous five Super Bowl victories.
It seemed only fitting that Edelman walked off the field with this one.
Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.