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Framed Eagles jersey at home reminds Danny Amendola of his NFL roots

Danny Amendola got his start in the NFL as a member of the Eagles practice squad. Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It was exactly one month ago, on Christmas, when New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola tweeted out a picture of himself standing next to a framed green Philadelphia Eagles jersey. The No. 11 jersey had his name on the back of it.

He didn't explain the significance of the picture that day, but did so Wednesday with the Patriots preparing to face the Eagles in Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4 (6:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

"A friend of mine actually found my original practice jersey I had in Philly. I only had one, they put your name on the back and everything, and I guess they were selling it for some reason," Amendola said Wednesday in a quiet moment inside the Patriots locker room.

"He bought it, sent it to me framed and said, 'Hang this on your wall so you'll never forget the day they cut you.' I have it hanging. I'll never forget that. I learned a lot there, but at the end of the day ..."

Amendola's voice trailed off as he reflected on a much different time in his football career -- spending time on the Eagles' practice squad in 2009.

Now he's a clutch, big-game performer who tight end Rob Gronkowski recently said deserved to be called "Danny Playoff Amendola" because of his knack for coming up big in the postseason. The nickname continues to generate momentum, as evidenced by fellow receiver Chris Hogan walking by Amendola's locker Wednesday and seeing him surrounded by a large media crowd before saying, "That's Playoff 'Dola."

Indeed, he has come a long way since his time in Philadelphia in 2009, when current Eagles coach Doug Pederson was working as an entry-level offensive quality control coach on Andy Reid's staff.

"I was very low on the depth chart and learning, but I got some great tutelage from some really good coaches," Amendola recalled. "There were a lot of good receivers there, too: Jason Avant, DeSean Jackson. Jeremy Maclin. Hank Baskett. Kevin Curtis was there; a guy I learned a lot from. I still carry those relationships on now with most of those guys."

And just as important, Amendola made an impression on some coaches, which he later learned would open the door to greater opportunities.

Amendola had spent his 2008 rookie season on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad (fans might remember him from HBO's "Hard Knocks" that year) after going undrafted out of Texas Tech, but when the regular season ended, he decided a change of scenery was for the best. So after sitting out a week per NFL rules, he signed with the Eagles' practice squad on Jan. 7, 2009. The Eagles were still in the playoffs and ran a West Coast offense Amendola felt better suited his style.

Amendola quickly caught the eye of then-Eagles quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur and wide receivers coach David Culley, among others. He stayed with the Eagles throughout the 2009 offseason and preseason before finally catching his big break: Two weeks after being cut and signed to the Eagles practice squad, the St. Louis Rams signed him to their 53-man roster. The connection was obvious: Shurmur, who got a close-up look at Amendola in Philadelphia earlier in the year, had become the Rams offensive coordinator.

"Philly was a great opportunity because I met Pat Shurmur. I was very grateful for that," Amendola said. "Unfortunately I wish I had more football memories there. I didn't play in any regular-season games, which sucks because I wanted to play.

"But I was thankful for the opportunity because I met some great people and for me, it was really beneficial because I got to relate a second offense I learned in the NFL to the first one, and I could kind of understand how the plays are called, my specific job on each play, my role. It was a learning experience for me. It was like grad school."

Amendola's career took off, and in 2011, a similar coaching connection would lead him to the Patriots. Patriots coach Bill Belichick lamented the Patriots missed on Amendola coming out of Texas Tech, just as they did with Wes Welker a few years prior, and Josh McDaniels' recommendation convinced him Amendola was a worthy free-agent target for the team in 2013.

"The light went on with Josh," Belichick said Wednesday. "Josh was here. Josh had him in St. Louis [as offensive coordinator] and you saw a good player in St. Louis, but you didn't see all the things behind the scenes that you kind of see when you actually have the player on your team. Josh saw that and he made us aware of all the things that Danny does and how well he does them, what his skills were and so forth. That's kind of when it started and then of course once we got him here all of that became evident to everybody who works with him."

It has been on display for everyone to see in recent weeks, as the 32-year-old Amendola leads the Patriots with 18 receptions for 196 yards and two touchdowns over two postseason games. He has also been a difference-maker as a punt returner.

Describing when he knew he had solidified his place in the NFL, Amendola said Wednesday, "It took four years in St. Louis. I never felt like I knew what my NFL career was going to be. It's always been head down and work your ass off, and that hasn't really changed."

That was his approach in Philadelphia, which is why the framed No. 11 jersey hanging has so much meaning to him. In his Christmas night tweet, Amendola included the hashtags #nfl and #allwork.

Reminiscing about his time in 2009 with the Eagles, Amendola said, "I learned a lot about the East Coast; that was my first time living there that year. It was cold, lot of snow, and a kid coming from Texas didn't know what to think. But I adjusted quick."

He's glad he did, because in many ways, that time in Philadelphia was the springboard to greater success.

A framed jersey provides Amendola a daily reminder.