Super Bowl Sunday is an unofficial holiday in the United States. But members of the U.S. rugby sevens team have long had Super Bowl Monday circled on their calendars.
That is because they will be playing in a tournament in Sydney, where Super Bowl LI will kick off at 10:30 a.m. local time on Monday. They have a flight home to catch that morning, but are hoping to watch the beginning of the football game at the airport to support New England Patriots safety Nate Ebner, who played for the U.S. Olympic rugby team in Rio.
“Nate has a work ethic like no other, and I think that fits with the Patriots’ culture and philosophy,” Olympic teammate Zack Test said. “To transition from football to rugby and back to football takes such a special amount of focus and dedication.”
Ebner had the best season of his five-year NFL career in 2016, leading the league in special-team tackles and being named second-team NFL All-Pro. In an October interview with NBC Olympics, Ebner credited his rugby cardiovascular training for his success on the football field.
“It was pretty easy to get back in the swing of things,” he said.
Ebner is hoping to become the first athlete to play in the NFL, compete at a Summer Olympics and then win a Super Bowl title. Michael Carter won Super Bowl XIX with the San Francisco 49ers five months after claiming the 1984 Olympic shot put silver medal, but he had yet to make his NFL debut when he competed at the Los Angeles Games.
After suffering a concussion during the AFC Championship, Ebner has returned to practice to prepare to face the Atlanta Falcons. He spoke to reporters Monday night at the Super Bowl Opening Night media day, and discussed what it would mean to play Olympic rugby and win his second Super Bowl within a year.
“Obviously with the year that I’m having it would be like the absolute icing on the cake,” Ebner said, according to MassLive.com. “Regardless of all that, it’s so special just to be here.”
Ebner keeps in touch with rugby teammates by checking scores and participating in group texts. The U.S. squad has struggled with injuries this season, sitting in 11th place through three legs of the World Series after finishing sixth last season. Ebner can relate to adversity, playing for a Patriots squad that was without suspended quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games of the season.
“When things don’t go your way on day one, it doesn’t mean pack up and go home,” Ebner said recently to USA Rugby. “There’s a lot of opportunity to get better versus some of the best competition in the world. To miss that opportunity and not play as best you can on day two or three, you’re wasting it. It says a lot about the guys.”
Ebner has not ruled out trying to make the 2020 Olympic team. His rugby teammates have jokingly encouraged him to return to the pitch, but this week they are letting him focus on the Falcons.
“Playing with him in the Olympics, now seeing him play in the Super Bowl … he’s going back-to-back with lifetime dreams,” Olympic teammate Carlin Isles said.
MORE: Nate Ebner on transition from Olympic rugby back to NFL