By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Take a bow: If you’re a Browns fan, you have to feel good for Mike Adams.
After toiling for five seasons in Cleveland under three coaches and four defensive coordinators, he is a starting safety for the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 48. Through sheer work, determination and indefatigable “want to,” he has reached the pinnacle game of his career in his 10th NFL season.
Not too shabby for an undrafted free agent from the University of Delaware whose pro career began as a practice player for the San Francisco 49ers.
“I think I’m blessed,” Adams said to me at the Broncos hotel on Wednesday. “Every year you wrote a story about me competing with somebody trying to take my spot. That was crazy. A lot of first-round picks and a lot of (high-priced) free agents, I bet they want to be in my spot. But I’m here.”
Making Adams’ story even more improbable is the fact he is experiencing Super Bowl week in the vicinity of his hometown of Paterson, NJ – about 10 miles from MetLife Stadium, where Adams and the Broncos will oppose the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
Adams recalled a conversation he had with Browns teammates four years ago when the NFL announced the Giants would host Super Bowl 48 in 2014.
“I said to D’Qwell (Jackson), ‘You watch, I’ll end up going to the Super Bowl when it’s home and it’s cold,’” Adams said.
Except that Adams expected to get there as a Cleveland Brown. He really did.
“The joke was that it was cold in Cleveland and because we were used to it, it wouldn’t bother us. Now I’m really at the Super Bowl. It’s crazy,” he said.
His thoughts turned to the team he left behind.
“It surprised me (what happened) with (fired coach Rob Chudzinski). If anyone could turn that thing around, I thought it would be Chud. Man, going from change to change. I guess change isn’t always bad. But I know the fans in Cleveland are probably getting anxious for that winning season. I’m sure the players do, too – D’Qwell, Joe Thomas, they deserve it.”
A battler: Adams was a backup to Brodney Pool and a core special teamer on the 2007 Browns team that won 10 games. His playing time increased each year despite annual attempts to displace him with others.
He played for Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini and Pat Shurmur. Along the way, his popularity grew in the locker room. By the time he reached the age of 30 in 2011 – starting all 16 games for the first time in his career -- he was affectionately known as “Pops” by teammates.
An NFL locker room needs players like Adams, who can fill various roles (safety, nickel back, special teams) and who leads others by example. Adams always played with a chip on his shoulder because he was a survivor from a neighborhood in Paterson riddled with drugs, violence and poverty.
“It made me the competitor I am,” he said. “It made me go out there and want something so much more – that will, that want to, that focus. I’m proud of Paterson, proud of the way I grew up. I’m proud of the way I got to where I am today.
“I always think about being drafted first or second round and what life would be like. I do that because I’m human. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything because it made me work so much harder and I think everyone that covered me -- and I know God -- would say, ‘Mike you deserve it.’ And I think I deserve it too.”
When Adams’ contract ran out in after the 2011 season, GM Tom Heckert let him leave in free agency and gave his job to Usama Young. Adams signed with Denver.
“I wanted to stay. They wanted to rebuild and rebuild and rebuild. When they didn’t re-sign me, and it was time for me to move on, it was like, ‘OK, this isn’t a bad place to be,’” Adams said.
In five seasons in Cleveland, Adams was on teams that won 28 and lost 52. In two seasons in Denver, the Broncos have won 28 and lost 7. Adams has started 26 of the 35 games.
“He’s the same guy (as in Cleveland),” said Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. “He’ll scrap and claw and do whatever it takes for the team. He’s a guy that competes every day, gives you everything he has. He’s completely unselfish, he’s a great teammate, a good communicator, and he’s played a vital role for us the last two years.”
Come walk with me: On Tuesday, the city of Paterson held a pep rally for Adams. Hundreds attended to honor the latest success story to rise from the city’s streets to the Super Bowl. Giants receiver Victor Cruz, also of Paterson, earned a Super Bowl championship after the 2011 season. At the rally, a documentary of Adams’ life was shown to inspire kids to never stop trying to succeed.
Adams embraces the responsibility of being a role model.
“Absolutely. Why not?” he said. “There are a lot of success stories in this room. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one that had a little difficult path to get here. People like to see success stories. People like to follow those.”
After defeating the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, Adams was so giddy that he said if the Broncos won the Super Bowl he would walk the 9.5 miles from MetLife Stadium to his hometown Paterson – in full uniform.
He has since backed off a little on that promise.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I want to keep you guys wondering. I think I can make it if I do it.”
He’s come this far. Don’t doubt him.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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