BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Before he was Mr. Do-It-All, Danny Amendola was Mr. Not Quite.
With Wes Welker perhaps opening the door for the patented “white slot guy,” there was an opening for a player such as Amendola to get his foot in the door in the NFL. (It might not have hurt that Welker and Amendola were almost identical sizes and from the same school, Texas Tech.)
But from signing with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2009 to landing a few months later with the Philadelphia Eagles, Amendola never got his footing.
“You know you don't really know when you're the last man on the depth chart,” Amendola said. “You're hardly in the league.”
It’s a cute story for some, Amendola — now fully established as one of the New England Patriots’ most clutch players — facing the Eagles in some sort of revenge game in Super Bowl LII. But is it actually real?
Amendola, you should know, hangs an Eagles jersey in his house. He was only with the team for nine months and never really had a shot there. The team had talents at wideout such as DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant, but the 2009 Eagles also kept Reggie Brown, Kevin Curtis and Hank Baskett ahead of Amendola.
A friend gave Amendola the Eagles jersey, and it hangs as a reminder of where he was back then and where he is now.
“I played in Philly for a cup of coffee, so to speak,” Amendola said Monday. “I am thankful for my opportunity there, but one of my best friends sent me my original practice jersey he found online on like a bid on eBay or something.
“So he framed it up and sent it to me and said, ‘This is a daily reminder of how far you’ve come and don’t forget … they cut you.’ It’s definitely a chip that I like to [keep] on my shoulder.”
Amendola broke out later as a member of the St. Louis Rams, who signed him off the Eagles’ practice squad. He played there for Josh McDaniels and earned a role as a plucky slot receiver and fan favorite. Except that Amendola kept getting hurt, and it never felt like the Rams were that intent on locking him down.
So in 2013, only after Welker chose to leave the Patriots for the Denver Broncos, the Patriots (and McDaniels, who had returned to New England by that point) nabbed him as a consolation prize of sorts.
Amendola wasn’t Welker. He wasn’t even Julian Edelman, who went from 21 receptions for 235 yards the year before Amendola arrived to 105 catches for 1,056 yards the year after he signed. Meanwhile, Amendola was fine — 54 catches for 633 yards — but hardly what many fans expected.
It really wasn’t until the 2014 postseason that Amendola really delivered a massive performance for the Patriots. He caught five passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns (one from Welker) in a 14-point comeback against the Baltimore Ravens, and that started the ball rolling with Amendola becoming a playoff hero for the team that wins more than anyone else.
He was a monster in the Super Bowl LI comeback, catching eight passes for 78 yards and scoring the game-tying two-point conversion in the final minute of regulation. So what did Bill Belichick ask Amendola to do in the offseason? Take a pay cut — of nearly $5 million. It was his third salary reduction in as many seasons, losing about $13 million from his original contract terms.
Maybe we need to call him Mr. Discount instead.
“Danny is what our team is all about,” Tom Brady said. “Danny never makes excuses, does everything Coach [Belichick] asks him to do, comes out for work every day with a great attitude.
“And he makes the biggest plays in the biggest games. What more can you ask of a guy like that?”
All Amendola did was back it up with one of his finest regular seasons in 2017, stepping up after Edelman went down with a torn ACL in the preseason. And Amendola’s finest hour, individually anyway, might have been in the AFC championship game two weeks ago. He caught seven passes for 84 yards (including a massive 21-yard grab on 3rd and 18 with 10 minutes left) and two TDs, the Patriots’ final two scores in the 14-point comeback against the Jaguars.
Amendola also added a 3-yard run, a 20-yard throwback pass and two punt returns for 25 yards, the last of which went for 20 yards (after freezing the Jags’ coverage team by appearing to wave his teammates away from the ball) to set up what would be the game-winning drive.
For a guy who has 18 receptions for 196 yards this postseason heading into Super Bowl Sunday, it’s hard to believe that Amendola has never had more than 689 receiving yards in a season. Right now, with Rob Gronkowski (concussion) still not cleared, Brady could be calling on his trusted safety valve for more help in clutch time against the Eagles. Amendola has more two-TD postseason games (two) than he’s had in 111 regular-season contests (one).
So maybe it’s Mr. Playoffs.
Whatever the nickname should be now, he's not overlooking his journey. The struggles Amendola had to endure in finding his footing early, he said, has made all this team success with the Patriots so worth it in the end.
“It feels good man,” he said. “I put a lot of hard work into this craft into playing ball, a lot of energy, a lot of time spent. So this is another great opportunity for me and my teammates to play in such a big game on a big stage, and it's what we've been working towards all year.”