By Gabe Friedman/JTA
“I don’t know how he caught it. I don’t think he does either.”
That’s New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on Jewish teammate Julian Edelman’s physics-defying catch during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI on Sunday night won by the Pats in overtime, 34-28.
The catch, which Edelman somehow secured between multiple defenders after the ball was tipped in the air, was a crucial part of a historic comeback. New England trailed 28-3 in the third quarter before scoring 31 unanswered points on the way to its thrilling victory – the first overtime game in Super Bowl history.
In typical goofy form, Edelman said Brady exaggerated his praise for the catch because the two have a “bromance.”
One of the Patriots’ most valuable players – and quarterback Tom Brady’s favorite wide receiver target – Edelman, 30, could safely be called the best active Jewish player in the NFL.
In addition to Sunday’s spectacular catch, he showcased his skill during this season’s playoff stretch, tallying 118 yards and a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the American Football Conference championship game and 137 yards against the Houston Texans.
Until recently, there was some debate over whether Edelman was Jewish – the Patriots maintained that he was raised Christian, despite having a Jewish father. But since identifying himself as a member of the tribe during a 2013 interview on the NFL Network, Edelman has shown his Jewish pride a number of times. Here are five of those moments.
The time he wore an Israel pin
In a game against the Denver Broncos in November 2014, Edelman was spotted sitting on the team bench wearing a pin on his hat with the U.S. and Israeli flags. It was reportedly given to him by Israel’s then-ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, before the game.Edelman then tweeted to all his fans: “Thanks for supporting Israel!!!”
His funny matzah ‘ball’ tweet
Edelman is one of the savviest pro athletes when it comes to social media. With the help of the Boston-based company Superdigital, he has branded himself as an amiable goof by posting comedic videos of himself online. As an aside, it’s worth noting that his brand logo JE11, a combination of his initials and jersey number, looks almost like the word “Jew” in the right light. In April 2015, he posted a photo-shopped image of himself catching a piece of matzah as a friendly Passover greeting.
When he kicked off El Al’s Boston-Tel Aviv flight route
Edelman and his sister Nicole were among the first passengers to try the new direct flight to Israel from Boston’s Logan International Airport in the summer of 2015.
His well-documented first trip to Israel
After Edelman touched down in Israel – with representatives of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston and a group of Boston-area young adults – he made the most of his first visit, doing everything from praying with tefillin to tossing the pigskin with members of Israel’s national football team. He captured his journey in a produced video.
“Exploring my heritage is something I started in the past few years and seeing Israel for the first time, really getting a sense of its history and culture, I now truly understand why it’s so special,” he said in a news release.
When he was named 4th-best Jewish football player of all time
On the American Jewish Historical Society list of the 10 best Jewish football players, Edelman was ranked behind only Hall of Famers Sid Luckman, Ron Mix and Benny Friedman. That’s formidable company: Luckman led the Chicago Bears to four NFL championships between 1940 and 1946, and Friedman was known as one of the game’s first great quarterbacks. Mix, an offensive lineman mostly for the San Diego Chargers, was named to the all-time team of the American Football League.