Albany native and former Monroe star Deion Branch stretches during Patriots practice Friday in preparation for Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday against the New York Giants in Indianapolis — Branch’s home away from home where he now lives.
By Josh Weinfuss
ALBANY HERALD CORRESPONDENT
INDIANAPOLIS — The trip from Louisville to Chicago takes about five hours.
Too far for a quick trip. Just short enough for a half-a-days drive.
Deion Branch knows all about being far away. He couldn’t get any farther from the New England Patriots for almost four-and-a-half seasons after he was traded to Seattle in 2006.
He’s now seven years removed from even playing in a Super Bowl, when he was named MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX.
But he’s back.
Back in New England and back in a Super Bowl.
He returned to the Patriots in 2010, a year after making his permanent home Carmel, Ind., a northern suburb of Indianapolis, strategically chosen because it’s halfway between Chicago, where his wife, Shola, is from, and Louisville, where his twin sons live. And while Indiana is his new home, he reminded anyone who was listening this week that Albany will always be his true home.
Branch returns usually twice a year, once for his football camp and another time on a stealth visit to see family without having his trip announced to the city.
This week the Patriots aren’t just the home team on the field, Branch is playing the de facto host for the team, as well. Earlier this week he had teammates over for a little “dish” that Shola made. He also took some teammates to an Indiana Pacers game.
About five cheered for him — and about 14,000 against, Branch joked.
But ultimately, he’s back where he wants to be: near his family and in a Super Bowl.
Branch walked into Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday with a video camera.
This time, however, he wasn’t in front of it.
The 10-year veteran was capturing the scene that unfolded in front of him, with more than 2,000 reporters, cameras and sideshows. It’s a spectacle to be seen, but this year, Branch — who’s already played in and won two Super Bowls during his career — wanted the memories for himself.
“We get recorded all the time and so I thought I would put you all on the spot today,” Branch said. “Don’t be surprised to see yourself one day.”
Maybe Branch has something up his sleeve, or maybe he wanted to soak in the moment, using the last six years as a reminder that playing in the Super Bowl may never happen again.
Win or lose in Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants on Sunday, Branch told The Herald he’ll play until he can’t anymore.
The smile that followed that statement spoke more than the words. Like the rest of the New England Patriots this week, Branch has been relaxed, yet focused. They seem to be enjoying it more this time around compared to 2008 when the Patriots lost to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, albeit without Branch who was playing with Seahawks.
“It’s going to be great,” Branch said. “It’s an honor just to be a part of this. I’m truly thankful to be a part of playing in another Super Bowl.
“To have the opportunity to come here, to come back and also play with these guys and play with my quarterback who I came into the league with, it’s an honor.”
Even as he spent about four-and-a-half years across the country in Seattle, Branch felt he’d have another chance to play in the Super Bowl. His departure from New England after the 2005 season was ugly but didn’t leave his relationship with the Patriots fractured. Branch held out for a better contract, missed summer minicamps, training camp and the preseason, and he was eventually traded to Seattle a few weeks into the season.
The Patriots reacquired Branch in a 2010 trade and the Super Bowl XXXIX MVP came back in a new role: The Elder Statesman. Just by walking into the locker room, Branch became a mentor, a role he’s embraced.
But even the veterans get nervous.
When the nerves start to become too much, Branch relies on his wife, Shola, sons, Deiondre and Deiontey, and the rest of his family who made the trip to Indianapolis.
“I lean on my family for those days and the moments when I feel like I’m getting anxious,” Branch said. “I’m a pretty calm guy (usually).”
Winning another MVP isn’t a priority for Branch, who made sure to remind reporters that while Tom Brady hasn’t been to the Super Bowl in four years, he hasn’t been in seven.
It’s time, Branch believes, to end that drought, MVP or not.
“I think there is a lot of pressure on all the guys,” he said. “It’s all about going out and doing our jobs and doing what we have been doing all year long. I think that is the reason we are here. We didn’t get here by mistake. We put a lot of hard work in this season and hopefully we can in and finish the job.”