After last week’s elimination of the Tuck Rule, the 2001 Patriots enjoyed a few days back in the spotlight. Most notably, NFL Network went to town, showing the Snow Bowl (in its entirety) on Saturday afternoon, and following that up with Sunday’s airing of America’s Game: The 2001 Patriots.
If you caught it any of the coverage, you loved every second, and were ultimately reacquainted with one of the forgotten heroes of that championship run: J.R. Redmond.
When the playoffs began that season, Redmond, a former third round pick out of Arizona State, had spent two inconsistent and forgettable years with the Pats. In his sophomore campaign, he played in 12 games, carried the ball 35 times for 119 yards and made only 13 catches out of the back field. Through four quarters of the Snow Bowl, he had only one catch to his name.
But after Adam Vinatieri sent the game into overtime, Redmond joined the offense on the field, and made three receptions — highlighted by a 20-yarder that moved the Pats into Raiders territory — on the game-winning drive.
He was quiet in the AFC title game, and again for most of the Super Bowl. But when the Pats trotted out for what would become the most legendary drive in franchise history, Redmond was right there.
He made three catches on that final push, including the 11-yarder where he almost impossibly fought his way out of bounds and stopped the clock. After the game, Charlie Weis said that if not for Redmond finding the sidelines, the Pats would have been forced to take a knee.
Anyway, after the Super Bowl, Redmond fell back into the Belichick Abyss. He appeared in only nine games in 2002, picking up only two carries and two catches along the way. That next August, he was cut, played two seasons with the Raiders and then was out of football all together.
So what happened to J.R. Redmond?
Today, he owns an L.A.-based business called Just Run Pro Training.
“I travel the country, putting on youth sports camps, and mentoring young athletes,” Redmond told me over the phone on Monday. “It’s about functional movement. Teaching kids how to be better athletes. We also do mentoring with an SAT/ACT/High School Exit exams and other preparatory material. We help kids get through their high school learning process with a little assistance if needed.”
The project is a personal one for Redmond, who had his own struggles coming out of high school: “I always thought about doing it because I was one of those kids who didn’t do well on the SAT test. Not because I wasn’t smart enough but because the information on that test is relevant to what you’ve been taught. And kids in inner city L.A. aren’t getting taught the right things. Knowing that I went on to go to college, play in the Rose Bowl for a national championship, got to the NFL, and won a Super Bowl . . . none of those things couldn’t have taken place if I didn’t pass my SAT test. I just imagine all the kids that are ill prepared, and it’s not their fault.”
For more on Redmond’s effort’s check out his website, live.justruntraining.com. And for more on his memories from that Super Bowl season, plus insight on the early days with Tom Brady and surviving the Patriot Way, check out this Q&A:
What was your reaction when you heard they were getting rid of the Tuck Rule?
The first thing that came to my mind was that Tom [Brady] should have thrown me the ball. (Laughing) I was wide open over the middle! We would have never had to pull that rule out if he’d just thrown me the ball. I would have caught it and scored a touchdown.
That damn Brady. Always making the wrong read. Did he even see you?
I don’t know if he was looking at me, or looking in the back of the end zone, because I think there was an end route behind me, but I was running across the screen wide open. You can see me run across his face on the replay. So that’s kind of funny. To be honest, I didn’t know the Tuck Rule existed. I didn’t know anything about it. So I was shocked when they told us to go back on the field.
What happened with your role in that postseason? How or why did you suddenly become a major part of the offense?
Well, I suffered a very bad high ankle sprain about four games into the season and it hampered me from playing. I might as well have broken it because it would have healed sooner. Anyway, the ankle left me at about 60 percent for most of the season, and then going into the playoffs I probably got it up to around 85-90 percent. After that, I guess it was timing. A lot of it was Tom going through all his reads and not forcing the ball, and coming to me on the check down. And the other part of it, man, was just you know, I would say God. Because I had definitely been praying and asking to be a part of something like this. We had been going strong, and winning and I just wanted to be a part of it. I mean, I was on the team. I was getting a paycheck like every one else. I wanted, just for one moment, to feel like I was a part of it. I wanted to make a play that would make a difference.
How vivid is your memory of that play in the Super Bowl? I'm talking about the one where you fought to get out of bounds. Can you put yourself right there?
Oh, man. I can put myself there. I catch the ball in the flat and I see a guy outside of me. I know that if I run for the sideline he’s going to tackle me inbounds, so I give him a jab — knowing that’s he’s obviously going to try and protect the sideline — and then shoot up field for the first down marker. And then I saw I could still get out of bounds, so I got the first and went for the sideline. I just dove, stuck out the ball, and tried to stop the clock. I can put myself right there. I can put myself in the huddle.
OK, bring us into the huddle. Brady sticks his head in and says . . .
I remember Tom calling the play, and I remember him looking in everybody’s eyes, and he says: “OK, boys. We gotta go the whole field. Let’s go win this game right now.” At that point, none of us had any doubt in our mind that we were going to win that game. That’s because with Tom, it didn’t matter if it was 3rd-and-1 or 4th-and-41; whenever he called the play in the huddle, we all believed that we would make the play.
Was that trust something that he’d earned over the course of the season?
I don’t know. It happened pretty early. I think once he got in, we just rallied around him. I mean, he was doing everything he knew to do. He was doing everything that he was coached to do. He wasn’t making mistakes. He was just our leader.
You guys were rookies together. Is there anything from that first year, when he was just lurking in the background, that jumps out at you? Anything that would have led you to believe that he’d be where he is today?
No. I didn’t see it coming because we didn’t get much of an opportunity. I knew he could be a good quarterback because there were times when I was in the huddle with him and you could just feel his huddle presence.
So that presence played a major factor in the way the team responded?
Yeah. It was a lot different from [Drew Bledsoe’s]. His huddle presence . . . I guess I would say was just “calming.” You never felt alarmed by the situation you were facing. Whenever he was in the game, it never felt like it an emergency. We always had that sense of urgency, but we were never intimidated or flustered. He brought that presence to the huddle.
I assume that nothing can compare to the Super Bowl and just winning a ring, but how close does the Snow Bowl rank in terms of the greatest memories of your NFL career?
In my memory, being a Southern California kid, the Snow Bowl was almost bigger than the Super Bowl. I grew up in Los Angeles. I grew up watching the L.A. Raiders. Watching Bo Jackson, Marcus Allen and all these dudes at the Coliseum. I grew up watching that and I bled Silver and Black. So to get the opportunity to be on the field with guys like Jerry Rice and Tim Brown and Rich Gannon and Charlie Garner, Tyson Wheatley and Zach Crockett . . . I was like a kid. I forgot there was even a game while I was out there in warmups, because I was thinking about going over to get some autographs. It was all just a really humbling experience.
So when you think back to that long playoff run, from the Snow Bowl to Pittsburgh to New Orleans and even the few weeks that followed, what’s the one moment that will always stand out?
When that confetti dropped in New Orleans. When the field goal went through and the confetti dropped. You know, all of us, no matter what we do, want to feel like we made a difference. And for me, after having such a rocky season, and dealing with that ankle sprain. Plus, I didn’t go in to that game even thinking I would get much playing time because it was Kevin Faulk’s hometown. They had all these gadget plays and special plays set up for Kevin, and I was excited for Kevin, however where did that put me? So to get the opportunity to catch three balls on the last drive and help get Adam Vinatieri in field goal position was unbelievable. And after the game, the fact that Bill Belichick and Charlie Weis acknowledged my role in that victory, that for me was just so humbling, and the greatest experience of all.
What did Bill say?
When they interviewed him after the game, he said, “Well, first of all, we got big plays out of J.R. Redmond.” And then in an interview Charlie Weis did with ESPN, he said: “Well, truth be told, J.R. Redmond had a great playoff run and if not for the plays he made we probably wouldn’t be here.” That really meant everything.
What’s the one word you would use to describe the experience of playing for Bill Belichick?
(Laughs) The one word? Oooo-weee, I can think of a lot words . . . OK, fine. If I had to pick one word to describe playing for Bill Belichick, I would say perseverance.
Meaning that you have to persevere in the face of that “my way or the highway” philosophy?
More than anything, it’s about understanding that you’re coming into a system which is just that — a system. It has nothing to do with the player. And the quicker you understand that, the better you’ll get along in that system. It’s never about the player. Any time in the last 12 years where it’s become about the player with someone on that team, that player’s not there the following year.
Was that hard far you to understand, especially seeing how you were considered a pretty dynamic player coming out of ASU?
It was. I think the biggest difficulty for me was getting to the next level and realizing that it’s not all about talent. That’s the part that was hurtful, because you grow up thinking that it’s about competing. That as long as I can beat you, I’ll get a chance to play. But that’s not always true.
Are you referring to specific politics within the team, or with Belichick in general?
Not necessarily. It’s really just a matter of preference. And I’m not saying that as a bad thing. It’s just preference. A coach may choose one style over another, and if you don’t fit in that style you just don’t fit. And in my situation, let’s be honest, Bill loves big backs. So Antoine Smith was a jewel. You look back at when Bill was with the Giants and there was Ottis Anderson and Rodney Hampton. Those guys are 6-foot, 240. Then in Cleveland he had Leroy Hoard and Craig Mack. Two HUGE guys. So when he had a chance to get a guy like Antoine, who fits that body mold, he had to jump all over it. Those are things that you just have to come to understand. That it’s not always about you. That it’s about the team. It’s about the system. And that was real hard for me to grasp.
So looking back now, if you had to pin point one reason it didn’t work here in New England, what would it be?
Some of it was that preference I’m talking about. But I think another big part was that I wasn’t a special teams guy. And that’s Bill’s thing. You gotta be a special teams guy. And I’d never done anything like that. It’s one of those things where the more you can do, the more opportunity you’ll have. And because I wasn’t a special team specialist at the time, it really cut my career short there.
As the years go on, how do you want fans to remember you in Boston?
Just that I was a guy who made plays when there plays to be made. I know I didn’t make a lot of plays, but every time my number was called, usually the game was on the line, and I made the play.