By Joshua Koch
HOUSTON – Since May 21, 2013 – the day Houston was named the host site of Super Bowl LI – Willie Amendola thought about the possibility of getting to watch his son, Danny, play in his hometown for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
“Our initial thought was wouldn’t it be wonderful if he’s still playing in the league and he got an opportunity to come here and play at NRG,” Willie, who is the Athletic Director for Spring ISD in Houston, said. “That was our thought. You don’t think too much past that because you don’t want to put the cart before the horse.”
Two months prior to that announcement, Danny parted ways with the then-St.Louis Rams after four seasons and joined back up with former Rams Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels in New England, signing with the Patriots.
Four years later – Danny’s coming home to play in Super Bowl LI.
“He’s been excited for this,” Willie said. “Secretly you think about these things but you don’t ever articulate them because you’re afraid you’re going to jinx yourself and put the cart before the
horse. We kind of have had this thing in the back of our minds for a while about the opportunity to do this and how special it’d be.”
The journey for the once 145-pound sophomore at The Woodlands High School to being a starting wide receiver in the NFL is one for the story books.
Coming out of high school, helping guide The Highlanders to their first ever State Championship game appearance in 2003, Danny fielded just two offers.
Texas Tech and Illinois.
“Wasn’t a whole lot of people knocking down the door,” Willie said.
In the end the attention from Red Raiders Co-Offensive Coordinator/Inside Receivers coach Dana Holgorsen, wide receivers coach Sonny Dykes and assistant head coach/special teams coach Ruffin McNeill was enough for Danny to head to Lubbock.
Following his career at Texas Tech – where he became just the third player in school history to record 1,000-plus return yards, and ranked in the top 10 twice in return yardage for a season – Danny looked towards the NFL.
Once the final draft pick of the 2008 NFL Draft went off the board, Danny was left without a team – no one drafted the 5-foot-11 wide receiver/punt returner from Texas Tech.
Danny jumped on with the Dallas Cowboys, eventually making their practice squad.
Following his stint with the Cowboys, Danny spent some time with the Eagles before being eventually traded to the then-St. Louis Rams, where his career would take off.
“At the end of the day that’s what you’re most proud of is his work ethic, his commitment.” Willie said about Danny overcoming early challenges in his career. “His focus on trying to accomplish his goals and struggling through the disappointments. When you’re sitting there thinking you’re going to get drafted and you don’t that’s a disappointment. It didn’t become an obstacle, it became a motivation.”
The motivation drove him to now his eighth season in the NFL, recording 3,450 receiving yards and 17 scores, 151 kick returns for 3,559 yards (23.6 yards/return) and 147 punt returns for 1,476 yards in his career.
Watching Danny play in the NFL, him being a part of the Super Bowl XLIX winning New England Patriots in 2015 and now having a second shot at winning a title is something Willie never imagined.
“I don’t think I ever imagined the success he’d have in the NFL,” he said. “You kind of just go day by day and work hard and hope the chips fall in your favor. That’s the mindset he has and that we all have. I don’t think you afford yourself the luxury of thinking that far down the road. When it does happen it becomes even more special.”
Since being in the NFL, Danny has had the opportunity to play back in Houston twice before in 2013 and 2015 with the Patriots – both were victories.
Playing for his second Super Bowl title back in Houston, where Danny has former high school coaches, high school and college friends and family, Willie said makes this a special business trip.
“He got to play for a State Championship at Rice, now he’s getting to play in a Super Bowl at NRG,” he said. “It is special. It is a blessing. We don’t lose sight of the fact that it truly is a blessing. We’re very happy and tickled pink about being able to watch him play in Houston. Makes it kind of special.”
The buildup to Feb. 5 and Super Bowl LI is in full swing and with that comes the excitement and the emotion of the biggest game of the year and for players, their careers.
In 2015 at Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona, Willie was in attendance to see Danny and the Patriots defeat the Seahawks 28-24.
For the Massachusetts native, who was a fan of and attended Patriots games in the mid-1960s, if the Patriots are able to defeat the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, Willie said not discounting the significance of Danny’s first Super Bowl win, but this one will mean a little more.
“Absolutely, it would be a little bit more special,” he said. “First one was obviously special, with how they won with the interception and Danny got a chance to catch a touchdown pass in that game. That was great. A lot of emotions on the field during the trophy ceremony was amazing.
“This one I got a feeling that if they have an opportunity to win and get blessed with a victory, I think it will be equally emotional.”