By CBSBoston.com Staff

BOSTON (CBS) — Julian Edelman is set to return to Gillette Stadium on Sunday, the place where he made big play after big play during his NFL career. He’ll be honored by the Patriots for his 12 years in a New England uniform, and finally receive a proper sendoff from the Foxboro faithful.

Edelman’s final game with the Patriots was in an empty stadium, so this weekend is a gigantic deal for the retired receiver and his family.

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“I’m super exited for this weekend. It’s an absolute honor for the Kraft family, the Patriots organization, and Coach [Belichick] to even allow this to happen,” Edelman told reporters over a lengthy Zoom session on Thursday. “I’ve had so many great memories here and it will be very cool to see the fans.

“My last game, we didn’t play in front of anyone, so it’ll be a fun experience and I look forward to my little girl, my family to experience it,” he said.

“It’s definitely going to hit my soul,” Edelman added. “I’m an emotional guy so we’ll see how I hold up. I look forward to seeing the fans. Last year was so funky. I’m excited.”

Edelman played just six games in 2020 before a knee injury ended his season and, ultimately, his playing career. He said his off-season decision to retire was an easy once, since his body was just not responding well to the rigors of football.

“I didn’t want to look like an old guy out there, and I felt like that was starting to happen,” he said. “Father time is undefeated and it gets guys differently. It was a hell of a ride though. It was fun.”

Fun is an understatement. Edelman, much like Tom Brady, personified that underdog mentality the Patriots were always looking for in players. You may have heard this before, but the seventh-round pick was a quarterback in college before becoming a clutch receiver for the Patriots. And before he would go on catch 620 passes for the Pats during the regular season (good for second in team history) and another 118 in the playoffs (second all-time behind the great Jerry Rice), he had to work his way up the depth chart on special teams — plus a short stint as a defensive back. He was always willing to put in the work, and he was always willing to do whatever Bill Belichick asked of him.

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“I love the guy. He may have been hard to play for, and we all know Coach Bill. But he was the guy who gave me an opportunity to go out and fulfil a dream of mine,” said Edelman. “I’ve learned so much about how to prepare from him, the consistent grind and relentlessness, a lack of complacency. That was great for me as a young adult to bring to my whole life. The way he thinks, the way he calculates, it was a blessing to get to go through that. I love that coaching style and something I was used to growing up. I love Coach and I appreciate him for everything he has done for me.”

Edelman still has a lot of reflecting to do on his illustrious career, but he said that he breaks it down into “two little careers.”

“I think about the grind of my rookie year and being a seventh-round draft pick, really having to put your all into something to try to make a team and earn a spot. Those four years, five years, it was a mental grind,” he explained. “That transitioned into getting an opportunity to play receiver and how that went, with all the games we won. I think about the years I got hurt, the years we didn’t win and what you could have done. You think about the wins, but it’s been crazy to actually think about.

“I really haven’t reflected that crazy on it quite yet. You just transition into putting your energy into other things and that’s where I’m at,” he said. “I have definitely thought about that original grind, which was the foundation of my career.”

Edelman would have liked to have played a few more seasons, especially after seeing Mac Jones over his first two NFL games, but he’s happy with his new career as an analyst. He didn’t want to talk about New England’s Week 4 matchup with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers too much, though he did say he’ll be rooting for the Patriots before quickly pleading the fifth. He’s also enjoying all the time he gets to spend with his family, and promised some big things from his new production company.

It’s clear that whatever Edelman does, he’s going to do it to the fullest. That’s how he’s always played football, and all of his hard worked paid off to the tune of three Super Bowl rings, a number of incredible catches in some extremely clutch moments, and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

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“Retiring as a Patriots, it’s like a dream. I always loved the guys who played on one team and for a football player to have an entire career on one team, one franchise — I feel like it’s a pretty cool thing,” he said. “That was a dream of mine, honestly.”

CBSBoston.com Staff