Life After Football: The Story of David Patten
Photo Credit: Brian Bahr/Getty Images
It was a play that birthed one of the greatest runs in all of sports. Former New England Patriot wide receiver David Patten leaped up to grab quarterback Tom Brady’s first Super Bowl touchdown pass of his career.
“It’s just like any movie you watched, think of any football movie, your favorite football movie when it comes to that climactic scene and everything slows down in slow motion,” Patten said. “That’s exactly how it was even though it was live, everything was full speed.”
Patten took it second by second as arguably the most famous catch of his career unfolded in front of a capacity crowd in New Orleans.
“In my mind when I saw the ball, when I came out of the up portion of the out-and-up route, I was like ‘just put your foot in the ground and jump and see if you can get it,’” Patten said. “It’s like my body just kept going up and when it hit my hands, I remember saying ‘man, just hold on when you hit the ground.’”
Patten’s early football days were at Lower Richland High School where he played on the same team as Gold Glover and future Red Sox World Series Champion Pokey Reese.
“Had Pokey [Reese] not played professional baseball, he would have been a Hall of Fame wide receiver,” Patten said. “I had seen him make some of the most acrobatic and phenomenal catches, he was making like the ‘Odell Beckham Jr.’ catches and he would make even more phenomenal catches in baseball.”
Patten then attended Western Carolina University. He went undrafted in 1996. After spending one year with the Albany Firebirds arena football team, he waited for his chance in the NFL. Even when there seemed like things were looking bleak, Patten stayed positive.
“I can never remember not doubting whether I would make it to the NFL,” Patten said. “I knew with all of my heart and all of my mind and always believed that I would make it.”
More than half a year passed, and still, no one called. Determined for answers, he turned his attention to his faith.
“I was always conscientious of the fact that I know that I realized my dream and I knew it was the direct will of God,” Patten said. “I was doing everything I was supposed to do but because I wasn’t committed to Him, I couldn’t get a tryout, no one even looked at me and then when I committed my life to Christ, I’m working eight months loading coffee beans into an 18-wheeler truck and I don’t even have time to work out and I get picked up by the New York Giants.”
Due to his slight frame, Patten would suffer injuries throughout his tenure with the Giants turning to creatine to help with the issue. Through the pain and the disadvantages he had, Patten would continue moving and playing through pain knowing that as an undrafted free agent, he could be released at any time without a second thought.
“I was not going to not let anything stop me from realizing my dream,” Patten said. “Although I had several injuries, I never let any of it prevent me from going out there and practicing and playing in the preseason games, and to this day I don’t know how I made it through it because I had a herniated disk in my back and my back would give out on me to the point where I couldn’t walk and in some kind of way I would suck it up, tough it out and be able to play through the game or through the practice.”
In 2000, Patten signed with Cleveland, where he finally worked his way up to a starting role. However, his time was cut short due to an injury, leaving yet another season unfulfilled.
Patten’s fortunes would change as he signed with the Patriots as a free agent to be a weapon for quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who had signed a 10-year deal prior to the season. When Bledsoe went down and Brady came in, Patten started getting more looks, bursting onto the scene during their second meeting with the Indianapolis Colts.
The one-time coffee bean loader made history by becoming the first player since Walter Payton to catch, run and throw for a touchdown.
“The passing play was supposed [to be thrown by] Troy Brown,” Patten said. “I knew I had the best arm out of all the receivers and when we ran it in practice, and when I got to the endzone I turned around and said ‘I will throw this ball all the way back to show them that my arm is better than Troy [Brown’s], so I through the ball back 60 yards and I told Charlie [Weis] I said ‘y’all got the wrong one throwing the ball, you need to let me throw it so they switched it up.”
Patten ended the season setting with a career high receiving yards (749), and receiving touchdowns (four). The Patriots finished 11-5 and faced the Oakland Raiders in a snowy Foxborough Stadium for their first playoff game.
Patten was the leading receiver for the Patriots catching eight passes for 107 yards. One of which included the crucial fourth down on the overtime drive to set the Patriots up in good position to run the ball to give Adam Vinatieri a less difficult field goal.
Patten gave his take on what it was like trying to do his job with a field covered in a thick blanket of snow.
“What was so amazing about it, was that no one really had any good footing,” Patten said. “I remember running routes and I felt like I had the advantage cause I know where I’m going and it seemed like I never would slip in running my routes I slipped after I would catch the ball.”
“The Tuck Rule Game.”
The ruling: an incomplete pass.
— NFL Throwback (@nflthrowback) January 9, 2019
Patten would have two more touchdowns that postseason, with one coming in the AFC Championship against the Pittsburgh Steelers from Drew Bledsoe, and the other his mid-air catch in the Super Bowl.
The South Carolina native played 54 games with the Patriots, recording 165 catches for 2,513 all-purpose yards, and 13 total scores.
He spent two seasons with the Washington Redskins before having his second best professional season in terms of catches (54) and receiving yards (792) with the New Orleans Saints.
During his last stint with the Saints, another future Hall of Fame signal caller had his ear.
“[Drew Brees] would always ask me ‘alright tell me what’s the difference between me and Tom [Brady], tell me what I got to do to be as good as Tom,’” Patten said. “He was so humble and he honored Tom so much and I said Drew let me tell you something ‘the only difference between you and Tom is that he has more championships than you.’”
By spending time with both of them, Patten claims that the two are on the same level when it comes to talent and leadership.
“In terms of ability I wouldn’t give him an inch above Drew [Brees],” Patten said. “In terms of ability, smarts, leadership, they are equals.”
In 2007 while playing football, Patten was called to ministry and had no second thoughts that that was what he wanted to do after he was done catching passes.
“When I was called to ministry, I really committed myself to study God’s word,” Patten said. “I didn’t want to just preach for the sake of just preaching and studying the script and coming up with great sermons and as God began to reveal his truth to me and I started just think about the various stories, they are all inspiring.”
Patten resides in Columbia, South Carolina where he started his own church called Awol Ministries in 2014, also taking up public speaking.
Even as a champion wide receiver who fans will all know in New England, Patten hopes that one day he will be known to be as good a messenger of God as he was a wide receiver in his life after football.
“Everybody remembers me as the three-time Super Bowl Champion,” Patten said. “But, I truly believe that my desire and how God elevates me that when people remember me, they will remember me as the next great preacher.”
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