BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – New England’s James White knew what was coming. He knew where the reporter was going, a place he has been thousands of times since being the hero of last year’s Super Bowl.
The fourth-year running back from Wisconsin picked an appropriate stage to have the game of his life, capped by his 2-yard touchdown run on a pitch to end matters in the Patriots’ dramatic 34-28 overtime win over the Atlanta Falcons.
White barely crossed the goal line, but he did enough to end the game and ensure a place in Super Bowl history.
If that was all White did, he would have been elevated to lifelong hero status in and around New England, but he provided much more. White had 14 receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 29 yards and two touchdowns on six carries on a memorable night at NRG Stadium in Houston.
So White knew with the media horde at this year’s Super Bowl that last year’s would be a topic of conversation. He had his reply memorized.
“I try not to live in the past and focus on the present,” he said. “This is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league and can’t dwell on last year; you have to prove yourself over and over.”
This year, the 5-foot-10, 205-pound White enjoyed a solid regular season in which his value came much more as a receiver out of the backfield. He had 56 receptions for 429 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 171 yards (4.1 average) and no scores.
While he has celebrity status in New England, White would barely be recognizable walking down the street in Philadelphia. But the Eagles defense certainly recognizes him and the problems he can pose.
“He is slippery, gets yards after the catch, so you have to be on your game and have to make sure you tackle this guy and get him down because he is definitely a hassle,” said Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham, who likely will have plenty of encounters with White and other Patriots backs out of the backfield in the passing game.
New England uses multiple backs, but former Eagle Dion Lewis became more of the workhorse in the regular season, and it has remained that way in the Patriots’ two postseason games. Lewis has rushed for 96 yards on 24 carries in the two playoff victories.
White has just seven carries for 15 yards (but two touchdowns) and has caught seven passes for 51 yards and a score.
White was on the team but didn’t play in the Patriots’ Super Bowl win over the Seattle Seahawks after the 2014 season. He patiently waited his turn, appearing in just three games his rookie year after being drafted in the fourth round.
The Eagles expect him to be a factor Sunday.
“He isn’t the biggest guy in the world, but sometimes I think that works to his advantage,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “He is a compact player, has some wide-receiver skills, and he is going to be a challenge.”
A bigger challenge is getting White to reflect on last year’s Super Bowl. White is polite to all inquisitors, but he really wants to focus on the Eagles, not the Falcons of 12 months ago.
He did give a little glimpse into his mindset when he took that pitch.
“I was thinking, ‘Get the ball in the end zone,’ ” he said.
Did he think he was going to end the game on that carry?
“I was hoping so,” he said.
And then he described the feeling.
“I was excited,” he said. “To be with my teammates and all the hard work put in to win a championship, that is what it is all about.”
Then, realizing he might be looking back too much, he added: “It was fun, and I have moved on.”