FOXBOROUGH — Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski were standing with their teammates in the tunnel, anxiously awaiting the moment they would get to run out onto the field for the first time. The entire stadium was quaking around them, with the standing room only crowd roaring with anticipation for the unveiling of the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl banner.
The two undrafted rookies had waited their entire lives for this moment, and now it was here. In a few minutes, they were going to take the field and make their NFL debut, achieving a lifelong dream that had not long ago seemed so far out of reach.
Sensing they might get overwhelmed, three-time Super Bowl champion Troy Brown came over and offered a few words of encouragement.
“Troy was telling me the whole time ‘breathe, just breathe,’” Meyers said. “That was my first time seeing something that crazy, it was a surreal moment.”
Brown, the 48-year-old former Patriot wide receiver, has just about seen it all in his long and successful career in football. This year he has been helping out as a sort of unofficial wide receivers coaching assistant, and the two undrafted rookies said he’s been a great help to them as they’ve worked to adjust to life in the NFL — no more so than on Sunday night.
“Yeah, Troy took care of us,” Olszewski said. “Fireworks are going off, we played four preseason games but it’s a huge jump, I didn’t expect it to be like that with the fans here, they were crazy good.”
If Meyers and Olszewski had any stage fright on opening night, it didn’t show. The undrafted rookies played a small but meaningful role in New England’s 33-3 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, doing their jobs while contributing on a couple of noteworthy plays in the dominant all-around team performance.
Meyers made one catch for 22 yards on his only target, but it was a beauty. The 6-foot-2 receiver went over the middle and out-jumped his defender for the contested catch, the defensive back literally bouncing off him as he came down and carried the ball upfield a few yards further before getting tackled for the first down.
“We practiced that play a lot and I knew when my name was called I had to execute my one assignment,” Meyers said. “They split the shell, tried to get in between and Tom hit me with a perfect ball.”
Olszewski, meanwhile, got the nod as the starting punt returner over Julian Edelman and had two returns for 35 yards. His first went for 20 yards, weaving his way through traffic to set the Patriots up on the 38-yard-line to start the drive, and the second was a 15-yard return to give New England similar field position, this time starting from the 35.
In addition, Olszewski became just the third player in Bemidji State history to appear in an NFL game, something the cornerback-turned-receiver hoped will help inspire future Beavers players with NFL dreams. After his roller coaster preseason and drama-filled cutdown day experience, the rookie said his NFL debut was everything he hoped it would be.
“It just keeps getting better,” Olszewski said. “I said the preseason was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life, and this just doubled that. It just keeps getting more and more fun, especially winning with this group of guys we’ve got.”
With wide receiver Antonio Brown set to join the Patriots on Monday, the team will have to make a roster move to clear a spot, and Meyers and Olszewski could be potential candidates for release. Regardless of what their immediate futures might hold, for one night the pair got to live out a dream, and it was an experience they will carry for the rest of their lives.
“We were just talking like ‘man we’re really here, we’re doing it,’” Olszewski said. “We’ve both faced quite a bit of odds as people know, but it doesn’t matter now. We’re here, we’re Patriots, we’re proud to be here.”