Ahead of next weekend’s Super Bowl, I got a chance to talk with Philadelphia’s UK import, Jay Ajayi.
Running Back Jay had the good fortune to be traded from Miami mid-season and now faces the New England Patriots in the biggest game of his life and could be taking home the coveted Vince Lombardi trophy.
I asked Jay how many of his family will get over for the game and has he attended a super bowl in person himself before.
“I will have about 15 people come to the game. So that will be fun for my family to experience that for me. Last year was the first Super Bowl I attended, doing some stuff for NFL UK. I was at the game up until the third-quarter but I got fed up because I couldn’t take the fact that I was watching the Super Bowl and I wasn’t playing in it. At the time being at the Dolphins, watching the Patriots, it was really uncomfortable for me so I left the game early. ”
“I promised myself actually that I wouldn’t go back to the Super Bowl unless I was playing in it.”
“So, I’m just glad that everything worked out and this year instead of being at the game shaking guys hands pre-game and doing analysis at half-time I’m playing in the game. This is a dream come true, it’s crazy how things happen.”
We talked also about next year’s London game which could have been a Super Bowl re-match after the Jags gave the Patriots a scare. I said that If the Jags had qualified you’d have been the favourites instead of the Pats. Which would you have preferred to be going into Super Bowl LII?
“At the end of the day, in my opinion, I’ve always been an underdog throughout my career. I’ve always been doubted and had a chip on my shoulder so that role is nothing new to me. I’ve always felt like it’s that much sweeter when people don’t believe in you and people count you out. Regardless of whether we are favoured or whether we are granted that underdog role, it is what it is. We have this chance to play in the Super Bowl.”
“I’ve felt I’ve always been an underdog. That’s just me.”
I finished my individual questions asking about his ankle injury (he was limited in practice), how he was feeling and about the outlook for the week ahead.
“I’m excited. Obviously, it’s late in the year so there are little bumps and bruises, I’m a little sore, but…”
“There’s no reason I won’t be playing in that Super Bowl, nothing’s going to keep me from that.”
“Just getting my mentals ready to go, making sure my mind is right and just getting ready to play the game of my life.”
Jay Cutler QB #6 hands off to Brit Jay Ajayi #23 at the Wembley game in 2017.
Here’s the remainder of the questions asked by other journalists from the National Press:
Q: What sort of week are you expecting? Looking forward to the hype? Do you think you’re ready?
A: I’m excited to be playing in the Super Bowl, obviously there is this craziness around the game and it’s all about focusing on what’s the most important thing, the game itself, and not getting distracted from everything that’s going on around it. Because, obviously there’s a lot that goes into it, so it’s just about eliminating the distractions and playing the game.
Q: You must have thought you left the Patriots in your rear-view mirror when you left Miami, I guess you know all about them and they know all about you though?
A: Yeah, I would say it’s definitely an advantage for myself that I was able to play them so often when I was in Miami. I’m very familiar with the type of team they are and I’m able to draw from those experiences in the past. It’s obviously a new game and a different team but it definitely helps.
Q: Have you been able to pass any of that knowledge onto your coaches and teammates?
A: It’s more about just sharing my experiences of how the games went, obviously it’s a different team, it’s not the same schemes, but just understanding how the Patriots play and what kind of team they are and understanding that they’re a quality team and it’s going to take four full quarters to beat them and understanding that you got to bring your A-game because they are a really great team. That’s the experience I get to share with them. This team played them two years ago and won so they’ve had success against the Patriots before but it’s about focusing on this moment right now and leaving it all on the line. This is it.
Q: What was going through your mind on the side-line when you broke down in tears after the win against the Vikings?
A: It was the realisation of the opportunity that was playing in the Super Bowl, the final game, the big stage, something that all of us guys that play in the NFL, any kid that’s grown up loving the game of football, has dreamt about. The feeling of that coming true and the reality after everything that’s gone on in the season, to understand that I’m one step closer to accomplishing my dream. It’s a moment to thank God for the opportunity and being appreciative and just taking in the whole moment really.
Q: You’ve had the special feeling of coming over here and playing in front of your home fans. Is this going to a whole other level?
A: Yeah, this is it. Talking to my friends in Europe and my family in London I tell them it’s like playing in the Champions League final or the World Cup final, it’s the pinnacle of the sport. There’s no better game, there’s nothing after the SB. This is it, it’s the pinnacle, it’s one of the biggest sporting events in the world. For me, this is a dream come true. For me it’s just about finding a way to win, it’s about leaving my mark and legacy and being a Super Bowl champion.
Q: What are your thoughts on Sanchez leaving Arsenal?
A: Basically, good riddance, I’m for the guys who are in the team, the guys who want to be there. It’s unfortunate how things happened but I’m a supporter of the guys that play for the team and want to be there and are loyal to the team.
Q: When you were in London with the Dolphins a Super Bowl must have felt like a million miles away. What’s the transition been like from the Miami Dolphins to being a Super Bowl contender?
A: Yeah, it’s a blessing. From the moment I got traded, I understood that the Eagles were a contender so that was exciting for me. Coming from the Dolphins right away I understood that there was a likelihood this team could get to this position. It was really about getting here and doing what I could with my ability and doing whatever I could do to help this team to get to this point. For everything to come true it’s a blessing, but now it’s just about finishing. We’re here but it’s not just about making it. We want to win, we are going to win. That’s the plan. We have to stay focused and that’s it, just keeping our mindsets on the goal and what the task at hand is.
Q: And a good week for Arsenal reaching the final at Wembley?
A: Yeah that’s as exciting as well, that they were able to take care of Chelsea in the second leg. Hopefully, we can try and finish top 4, I don’t know how likely it is at this point. Getting that cup would be a nice piece to put on the season for sure.
Q: You mentioned what the Super Bowl means to your family in the UK, how aware are they of the rules and understanding of American football?
A: Yeah they’re very aware. They’ve been following my career since I got into the NFL. I’ve got to be in Wembley twice, the first time I didn’t play with the Dolphins because I was hurt, the second time this past year. So, they’ve got to go to a few games and matches and they’ve started to get more and more into what’s going on and get more educated and it’s been really cool to see them continue to learn the game and getting them exposed as I’ve been able to come back home and they can watch first hand and afterwards even when they’ve been watching the highlights.
Q: How has the support from the UK helped you on your incredible journey?
A: Yeah, the support from the UK and London has been amazing. You know, always getting the tweets and the social media platforms behind me has been great. Seeing the fans come out for the meet and greet I did, that was amazing as well. It’s been cool seeing the exposure, getting to talk to the kids with the London Blitz. All the different things I get to do when I come back, I really enjoy it. I enjoy being a face for the UK, I take a lot of pride in that. I’m excited when my career goes further that I’ll be able to do more things in London and creating more exposure and awareness.
Q: What lessons have you passed onto the London Blitz?
A: At the end of the day, I always tell them that I was a kid just like them. Finsbury Park isn’t far from where I grew up in Manor House. Just letting them know, I made it, my circumstances were a little bit different but even so being able to come from London growing up and being lucky enough to be naturally gifted at the game of football in the States and sticking with it, you know it’s a blessing and it can happen if you want to chase that dream. And I always tell them at the end of the day that they’re ahead at me because they’re already grinding at it early, at an early age, and they’ve got the passion for it. I’m excited to go out there and see those kids chasing it and being so aware of the game of NFL. It’s cool to see that they have people in place that want to see them succeed too, I’m talking about their coaches and the people that are helping with those teams and everything. That’s been a really cool experience for me, just seeing that they’ve got people that want to help them succeed in really chasing that dream.
Q: Tell us about the move from Miami to Philadelphia. Was that move made easier given that you moved from London to the USA as a very young man?
A: The move from Miami to Philadelphia, I found out when everyone basically found out and it was quick. A quick turnaround. I left a couple hours after I found out I was traded. It is what it is. But at the end of the day after I was able to take a breath and recollect and understand everything that went on, I was grateful of where I ended up. I believed that I was in a place where I could succeed. To have come from a team where we were not performing well to a team that was successful and had a great locker room, a brotherhood and I felt welcomed and appreciated, which was the most important thing for me, the fact I felt appreciated. All of those things together added with the fact that the team is amazing and brilliant and is able to perform at a high level, it just made the move a lot easier.