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Julian Edelman, the first Jewish football player named Super Bowl MVP, retires

Edelman, whose parents didn’t practice any religion when he was growing up, embraced his Jewish identity during his NFL career.

Julian Edelman, shown in 2019, announced his retirement. Photo by Alexander Jonesi/Creative Commons

(RNS) — Julian Edelman, a former college quarterback who became the first Jewish player named Super Bowl MVP, announced his retirement Monday (April 12).

“Nothing in my career has ever come easy and no surprise, this isn’t going to be easy either,” Edelman, 34, said in a video posted on Twitter. “I’ve always said, I’ll go until the wheels come off. And they finally have fallen off. Due to an injury last year, I’ll be making my official announcement of my retirement from football.”

Edelman, who played 12 years for the New England Patriots, told the “Vibe of the Tribe” podcast that he “really didn’t grow up with a religion.” His mom was Christian, his dad came from a Jewish family but neither practiced their faith.

“Our religion was sport — practicing and doing those things,” he said.

Early in his career, Edelman did not identify as Jewish.

“Well, I’m not completely Jewish, if you know what I mean,” he told reporters in February 2012, just before the Patriots lost to the New York Giants in the Superbowl. “I know people want me to be. My father is Jewish. My mother isn’t. I’ve been asked this before. I guess you could say I’m kind of Jewish but not really.”

But in 2015, Edelman traveled to Israel and in recent years had publicly embraced his Jewish heritage. He tweeted about Jewish holidays on social media and prayed with a rabbi every Friday during the NFL season. He also wrote a children’s book, about a football-loving squirrel named Jules, which was distributed to Jewish families.

“I love being a positive influence for the Jewish culture and the Jewish people,” he told the podcast host.

RELATED: How Julian Edelman became a Jewish hero

Edelman honored victims of the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue with a message he wore on his cleats during a game with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The cleats were later donated to charity.

He was named most valuable player after the Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII in February 2019. During the game, he caught 10 passes for 141 yards. During his career, he caught 620 passes for 6,822 yards and 36 touchdowns, including the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIX.

Perhaps his most remarkable catch came in Super Bowl LI, as the Patriots were in midst of rallying from a 28-3 deficit to tie the game. With about two minutes left, then-Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw a pass that was deflected by an Atlanta Falcons player. Edelman dove for the ball and fought off three Falcons and caught it just inches from the ground.

“He has shown that a Jew can be very much out in the world, doing something the folks would have branded as ‘un-Jewish (a game that revels in physical violence!) but being very Jewish without the need to, well, play defense,” wrote Religion News Service columnist and rabbi Jeffrey Salkin in 2019.

A seventh-round draft pick out of Kent State, Edelman first made the Patriots as a punt returner and spent part of one season as a defensive back before become a star receiver.

In the video announcing his retirement, he thanks his teammates, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the coaches and even the “meal ladies” and cleaning staff, saying that they had shared awesome memories.

The video closes with a message from Edelman: “It been a helluva story. Thanks for everything.”

Then in a bit of humor out of “Star Trek,” the now-retired receiver walks across the field at Gillette Stadium, home of the Patriots, pulls out a communicator and says “beam me up” before disappearing.