The way Andrew Adams remembers, the texts and tweets from teammates dinged vigorously the moment quarterback Tom Brady announced he was signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In their minds, it meant the Bucs were going to the Super Bowl, even back in March, fresh off a 7-9 season.
And Adams, a reserve safety who began his pro career as an undrafted free agent with the New York Giants, has a realistic chance of playing a significant role on defense against a scary Patrick Mahomes-led offense while starting strong safety Jordan Whitehead deals with a shoulder injury.
"I guess Tom was that missing piece," Adams said. "Just needed that missing piece to go all the way."
Whitehead left the NFC Championship Game victory against the Green Bay Packers after forcing two fumbles. The Bucs' other starting safety, Antoine Winfield Jr., missed that game with an ankle injury. Both have been limited at practice this week.
With Mike Edwards starting in Winfield's place, Adams filled in admirably when Whitehead was injured in Green Bay. Even if Whitehead puts a harness on his injured shoulder and suits up for the Super Bowl as expected, it's possible he won't last four quarters.
The postseason has tested the Buccaneers' depth, and Adams could be called upon again in the middle of a game in which their safeties will play an integral role in trying to limit Kansas City's All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce and speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
"We're fortunate to have Adams as the fourth safety," safeties coach Nick Rapone said. "He's played four years in the league. He's extremely intelligent."
Although not a household name, Adams has built a nice career. He's in his fifth professional season, has 32 starts and will now have a Super Bowl appearance on his résumé. Not bad for a former two-star recruit who was on the verge of playing baseball at Furman, only to have his football career resuscitated when the University of Connecticut came calling late in the process.
Adams went undrafted after four years at UConn and, after starting 17 games in his first two seasons with the Giants, was surprisingly cut in favor of Curtis Riley and Sean Chandler when a new regime led by Giants general manager Dave Gettleman cleaned house. Despite being upset at the time, in retrospect, it might have been the best thing that happened to Adams, if only because it led him to Tampa Bay.
"Probably so," Adams said with a chuckle. "I'm going to the Super Bowl."
It would almost be symbolic if Adams were to come off the bench and make a key play Sunday against Mahomes. He came close late last week against Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, even if Adams, ever the perfectionist, was critical of his performance on a trio of plays. He finished with five tackles and a pass defensed in the second half against the Packers, helping the Bucs keep Green Bay out of the end zone on its final three drives in a 31-26 victory.
In a career that saw him fight and claw to make a roster -- and then fight and claw to claim a role in Tampa Bay despite spending the 2019 offseason with the Detroit Lions -- it would be quite the achievement to add a Super Bowl ring.
"Always being prepared. Always working hard and doing the right thing. Just going to work every day, it all pays off," Adams said. "Good things will come to you if you control the things you can control. You can't control the things upstairs -- getting drafted, not getting drafted. You can control what you do on Sunday. I think that just kind of defines my career, really."
The Bucs will have their hands full regardless of the availability of Whitehead and Winfield Jr. Kansas City had the NFL's No. 1 passing offense this season, and Hill had 203 receiving yards in the first quarter of their Week 12 matchup when Tampa Bay's starting safeties were healthy.
Adams knows what needs to happen if he's on the field and sees Hill.
"Backpedal," he said. "Get back."
He can laugh about it now. Playing deep never seems deep enough against the Chiefs, and the Bucs have admitted they didn't do a good job providing their cornerbacks adequate help in that first meeting. They will this time around, with whoever is at safety.
But more than anything, Adams is grateful the chance to play in the Super Bowl has arrived. It was less than three years ago he thought there would be an opportunity to play alongside his brother-in-law, linebacker Alec Ogletree, with the Giants. The reality of the business crushed that plan, but not his dream. Adams' number will likely be called on Sunday in the biggest game.
"Opportunity," Adams said. "That has kind of been the staple of my career. Just being able to put myself in that situation. It's a blessing that as a kid you dream of."
Now it's his job to take advantage.