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MINNEAPOLIS (CBSMiami) – It’s been a remarkable journey for former Miami Dolphin Jay Ajayi.
The man who was shipped from South Florida to Philadelphia for a fourth round pick three months ago is now one victory away from a Super Bowl championship with the Eagles.
“It’ll be a special moment for me, for sure,” Ajayi said, of playing in Super Bowl LII. “It’s all about making sure we can accomplish our goal this Sunday.”
Upon punching his ticket to the big game, Ajayi’s emotions hit a crescendo after the NFC Championship. His Eagles had dispatched of the Minnesota Vikings 38-7, and Ajayi fell to the turf with tears of joy.
“Anything is possible with God,” he said. “I’m so overwhelmed right now.” That moment, caught on tape, was described by Ajayi as “a rush of emotion. I was down there thanking God for the situation, just bringing me through and helping me reach my dream of playing in the Super Bowl. Now, it’s here. Those emotions have subsided and it’s about accomplishing the goal.”
Of course, Super Bowls are the goal of every NFL player, but perhaps not all of them internalize it the way Ajayi did one year ago. As an ambassador for NFL UK, the London-born Ajayi attended last year’s Super Bowl, but he didn’t stay long enough to see the Patriots complete their historic comeback. Ajayi left the game early out of frustration.
“I left in the third quarter,” Ajayi said at Tuesday’s media day. “I told my manager, my boys, and my family that I would not come to another Super Bowl game unless I was playing in it.”
The competitive fire had been lit.
“I’m just grateful to be here now. This is a blessing, and now I can just go play.”
For Ajayi, the 2017 season had a bumpy beginning. He’d been a Pro Bowler for the Miami Dolphins the season before, but struggled along with his team early in the season. His yards per carry average was a pedestrian 3.8 and he hadn’t reached the end zone in seven games. There was apparent friction between Ajayi and head coach Adam Gase.
Following Miami’s humiliating 40-0 shut out loss to the Ravens on October 26th, Gase and the Dolphins brain-trust decided to make a change. That change came in the form of a trade. Ajayi was dealt to the Eagles for a 4th round draft pick, with Gase opting to promote backup running back Kenyan Drake to a more prominent role.
“When I got traded, it was kind of a shock to my family,” Ajayi said. “But when the emotions settled, they were just so happy and grateful when they saw what I’m doing with the Eagles.”
The Eagles were 8-1 when they acquired Ajayi. He’s thrived behind the Eagles offensive line (up to 5.8 yards per carry) and helped the team persevere through the injury of starting quarterback Carson Wentz.
A successful career in American Football was probably far from Ajayi’s mind as a child in North London. Soccer was and still is his obsession. He proudly represents Arsenal F.C.
Ajayi’s soccer fandom was firmly on display while with the Dolphins in London, when he got to meet Arsenal legend Thierry Henri.
Ajayi and his parents moved to Texas when he was seven, but still has family and roots in the Hackney borough of North London. In Texas, he would become a standout running back at Frisco Liberty High School.
Now, playing in front of the Philadelphia “fanatic” sports fans, Ajayi feels like he’s back home in England.
“In my opinion, Philadelphia’s fan base is as close as you’ll get to a European football team like Arsenal,” he said. “The fans are so passionate about their team. They get upset when things aren’t going well. I love being a part of it.”
Ajayi says he can barely walk down the street in Philly without getting recognized and stopped.
“I got recognized in Miami, but it’s at another level in Philadelphia,” Ajayi said.
If he helps his team win Super Bowl LII, he’ll never pay for a drink in the Philadelphia area ever again. On Sunday, the kid from Hackney can become a legend.
Ajayi and the Eagles will attempt to halt the dynasty of the New England Patriots Sunday at 6:30 PM at Super Bowl LII. The entire world will be watching.