Adams family values: Father roots for son
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Sometime today he will begin his sojourn to this coastal town just over the Georgia border. It won't be a long trip, not from his home in Columbia, S.C., but Julius Adams will have plenty of time to savor the pleasure that Super Bowl XXXIX promises. "I've got two teams in the Super Bowl," said Adams. "It's exciting."
Two teams? You hear him say that and you shake your head. Adams is one of the great Patriots in team history, a defensive end who played with intensity and grace from 1971-85, then for a final fling in '87. A big man with a quiet manner, Adams was so respected that a massive photo of him in his No. 85 uniform hangs from the highest reaches of Gillette Stadium. So surely the Patriots are his team Sunday, right?
Adams pauses, then reminds you he said he had two teams.
"All year I've been rooting for the Patriots and I'm so happy for them," he said, carefully choosing his words. "But I've got to go with the Eagles."
Such a concession may baffle Patriots fans, but not the young man who wears No. 57 for the Eagles. "Blood," said Keith Adams, the youngest of Julius Adams's four children, "is thicker than water, I guess. He wants the Eagles to win."
Indeed he does. Which proves that Julius Adams is as great a father as he was a player. . . .
Julius Adams was in the middle of his ninth season with the Patriots when Keith was born, in Norwood, Mass. It wasn't long after his sixth birthday that Super Bowl euphoria arrived in Keith's house, the 1985 Patriots having won three times on the road to go from AFC wild card to AFC champion.
"It's a great memory," said Julius Adams, who has coached football on the collegiate level, but is now an assistant at W.J. Keenan High School in South Carolina. "We had so many disappointments as a team [in previous years], so it was definitely a thrill to get there."
Super Bowl XX in January 1986 was going to be Adams's NFL finale and he figured it was a fitting way to go out. It is, after all, the dream of any pro football player and the fact that his family gets to share in it often makes it even more special. Just don't expect the memories to come pouring forth from Keith Adams, because New Orleans is a lot of things but it's not a hotbed of adventure for a 6-year-old.
"I spent the whole day with my family and it was fun, but I wasn't old enough to do a lot of things," said Keith. "Mostly, I remember playing with the other kids."
The game ended poorly, the Patriots on the short end of a 46-10 drubbing, and the memory still stings. "But there was a lot to enjoy in New England, I loved it up there," said Julius Adams. "You take and remember the good times, and even the bad [times] can't spoil it."
Adams did play one final season for New England, coming out of retirement for the 1987 campaign, but by then he was more into his family. Julius 3d never had a passion for the game, but Chris enjoyed high school football. Simone, the only daughter, was good enough to play basketball for Coppin State. Keith? Oh, how the kid loved the aggressive nature of the game his father had excelled at, even at a young age when he would horse around the Patriots locker room with guys like Stanley Morgan and Mosi Tatupu.
"Having two older brothers and a sister who could give him a run for his money, Keith got to mix it up a lot," Julius said, laughing. "Keith loved to be aggressive."
He was a running back at Westlake High School in Atlanta and when his father would pull out the tapes of his playing days in New England, the teen-ager would talk it up. "I'd tell him, `If I played in that era, I'd run you over,' " said Keith, who adds that his father would just smile and shake his head.
Of course, that is how Julius Adams played the game -- an unassuming man in a violent profession. He never called attention to himself and concedes it's the only part of today's game he doesn't care for.
"To me, it's not about show-boating," said the one-time All-Pro. "Just go out and play the game, have fun, compete. That's what I enjoyed. If I made a tackle, the fans could see it. Don't clown around to draw extra attention to it because you've got to remember that you've got 10 [other] guys on your team."
It's that sort of philosophy that Keith Adams has taken with him, citing his father and Hall of Famer Mike Singletary as his role models. "They were great on the field, but quiet off of it," said Keith.
Though his father thought Keith would make a great running back, the decision to move to linebacker was made during his Clemson career. It proved to be a good one, because before leaving after his junior year, Keith Adams worked his way into the record books, arguably the finest linebacker in Clemson history. In one game, he made 27 tackles, and that sort of play brought him recognition from NFL scouts.
But the Tennessee Titans cut Adams late in training camp in 2001 and thus set off an odyssey that more than awakened him to the cruel world of pro football.
He signed with the Dallas practice squad later that year and got into four games for the Cowboys. On to Europe, he helped the Berlin Thunder win a second straight World Bowl. Back to Dallas, he played in bits and pieces of five games during the 2002 season, then got waived. Dejected, but not defeated, Adams hooked on with the Eagles and he's been a key member of the special teams and a backup linebacker ever since.
"All those ups and downs kept motivating me," said the 25-year-old Adams. "Now, to be in the position of having the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl is a great privilege. I could sit back and reflect on all the negatives, but to experience one of the great things [you can achieve in this game], I understand that good things come out of the negativity."
If it sounds like something Julius Adams may have said in the days leading up to Super Bowl XX, it's by design. The young man, after all, yearns to be just like his dad.
"He always told us," said Keith, "you have to be a stand-up quality guy. Football is football and it's a great game, but if you can gain the respect of the people around you, that's the most important thing."
That's why Keith Adams, No. 57 in your Super Bowl XXXIX program, isn't dwelling on his role in the showcase game. He led the NFL in special-teams tackles in 2003 and was one of the premier players in that role again this season. They call him "Bullet" because he's the guy coaches send downfield first, a hard-charging locomotive assigned to break the return team's "wedge." There's not a lot of glamour in it -- he gained more notoriety by filling in ably for injured linebacker Mark Simoneau late in the season -- but Keith Adams couldn't care less.
"I don't know how many father-son teams have been in the Super Bowl [they will be the fifth], but it's a proud time for our family," said Keith. "I'm just happy to be part of this team, no matter what my role is. I'll do whatever it takes. I'll play on special teams every day of the week if it means playing in the Super Bowl."
Simoneau is expected to return to the starting lineup, but that won't push Adams out of view. A linebacker who was famous for hits so jarring at Clemson that he'd lose his contact lenses -- "there are one-lens hits and two-lens hits," he said, laughing -- Keith Adams hasn't lost sight of the fact that he's made it to the Super Bowl in just his fourth season, whereas it took his dad 15 years.
"And some guys never make it," said Julius Adams. "One of my best friends was Merlin Olsen. A great, great player. He never got a chance to play in the Super Bowl."
"I kidded my dad about that," said Keith, "but it's just the way the ball bounces. Everything works out for a reason."
Nineteen years ago? Can it be that much time has passed? Julius Adams will tell you the pain has long passed; his son will tell you just the other day he was thinking about that New Orleans experience as a 6-year-old. At least he recalled one detail of the trip.
"It was a sad day for the Patriots," said Keith, a sly grin appearing on his face. "Maybe Feb. 6 will be another sad day for the Patriots."