Even coming off their loss last year to the Eagles, the Patriots have recently racked up a couple fairly brutal Super Bowl victories. There was the last-second Seahawks goal-line interception, and then there was the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history against the Falcons — depriving them of their first ring, and cementing 28-3 as a uniquely painful set of numbers for any Atlantan.
Contemplating the number of signs and flags bearing that score that will fill Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday is alarming enough to anyone rooting against the Patriots. But perhaps no one has a more complicated relationship with that game than Patriots defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who joined the team in 2018 after spending three seasons with the Falcons. Yes, he was on the 28-3 Falcons team — and to make matters worse, he had torn his bicep in the playoffs, suffering a season-ending injury two weeks before that Super Bowl. So, he stood on the sideline and watched Tom Brady make history.
Now, for the first time in his eight seasons in the league, Clayborn will be suited up in football’s biggest game, for the team he watched dismantle his own previously. He spoke with SB Nation about what it means to him to finally make it here, and how he deals with constantly being confronted with the biggest loss of his career.
SB NATION: How does it feel to be back in Atlanta?
ADRIAN CLAYBORN: It feels good, I love the city of Atlanta. It’s such a cool city. I saw some Falcons fans at opening night, and it was all positive — so that’s good. And I have family here, they stay up in Alpharetta.
SB: Are they going to come to the game?
AC: No, unfortunately I couldn’t get enough tickets — but I have other family coming out from St. Louis.
SB: Right, that’s your hometown. Did you grow up a Rams fan? How did you feel when they moved back to LA?
AC: I did. The Greatest Show on Turf! I mean, I was in the NFL when it happened, so I didn’t really care too much. It is what it is — it’s all about money, so ... it was the best move for the franchise, I guess. Being in LA vs. St. Louis gets more players to come there, that’s for sure.
SB: Does your family resent the team moving?
AC: Yeah, my brother is a big Rams fan — I know he’s bummed about it. But now he roots for me.
SB: Last time you were at the Super Bowl, when you were with the Falcons, you were at the game but on IR. What does it mean to you to finally get to play in the Super Bowl in your eighth season in the league?
AC: I’m just soaking it all in and practicing hard so I can play well. Every year you hope to make it into the game, but when you don’t, you don’t — you just go onto the next year. Many guys go their whole career not being able to play in the Super Bowl, so I’m just happy I’m with these guys and I can take advantage.
SB: What do you remember most about Super Bowl LI?
AC: Uh ... watching Tom Brady come back from being down, 28-3, and kicking our butts. [Laughs.] It was painful, very painful.
SB: Have you ever talked to him or any of the other Patriots players who were around then about that?
AC: Oh yeah, it’s been brought up quite a few times. It’ll come up in film, where they’ll show a play from the game. It’s not fun to watch.
SB: On a professional level, you’re just sitting there like, “I can’t say anything ...”
AC: Yeah, pretty much.
SB: You did get fined once for a hit on Tom Brady. Has that ever come up?
AC: Yeah, we’ve talked about that — and we both agree that it wasn’t a late hit. He agreed with me.
SB: More broadly, how do you feel about the way the roughing the passer call has been enforced this year?
AC: I think it’s gotten better throughout the season. They stopped doing the ticky-tack stuff, and guys have caught on to what they’re looking for so it’s easier to play. You’re not scared anymore. I guess it’s better for the game, keeps the quarterbacks healthy — but we still get to hit ‘em.
It’s really just been about being smarter about not putting all your weight on the quarterback, pulling off a little bit but still hitting them hard enough. It’s just new, so you didn’t know how to pull off or what they’re looking for. It’s clearer now.
SB: How do you like living in New England overall?
AC: It’s cool, definitely different from Atlanta though. I live near the city, not up in Foxborough, so that helps. Not in the middle of nowhere. It’s like a smaller Chicago, which is where I live [the rest of the year].
SB: Waffle House or Dunkin’ Donuts?
AC: Waffle House. I usually get like a breakfast sandwich, or the hashbrowns smothered and covered and all that stuff.
SB: Given how long you’ve been in the league, what would you say is the biggest thing you’ve learned about what it takes to play in the NFL?
I guess this season, I’ve learned why this program is what it is. Everybody works hard. Coming in, I thought I worked pretty hard — and guys here are working just as hard as me. That’s the reason why they win here, because everybody’s just a worker — just gets to work.
SB: Look at you, espousing the Patriot Way.