FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It was a bull rush. Tom Brady was the quarterback. Super Bowl LIII.
John Franklin-Myers plowed into guard Joe Thuney, kept driving his legs and tossed Thuney aside like a blocking sled. He finished by sacking Brady and dislodging the ball from the New England Patriots' star -- a forever moment for any player, let alone a 22-year-old rookie.
Franklin-Myers, now a defensive end for the New York Jets, has a photograph of his Feb. 2019, strip sack hanging in the closet of his New Jersey home. He sees it every day. His Los Angeles Rams jersey and the gloves he wore to take down Brady are framed, like a personal Hall-of-Fame exhibit.
"That was my first Super Bowl -- and, hopefully, I go to a bunch more," he said in an interview with ESPN. "I just plan on making a lot more plays, plays that mean more than that one does."
Franklin-Myers, off to a fast start with a team-leading two sacks, has big dreams. He already has overcome so much in his life, doing it the way he made that sack in the Super Bowl -- relentless effort, refusing to let giant obstacles stop him.
Briefly, his journey:
He spent time in Los Angeles-area foster care until he was 6 or 7 (he can't remember), then moved to Greenville, Texas, to live with his maternal grandfather, Billy Ray Myers, who adopted him and raised him on tough love. He became a very good high-school player, but went 0-30 over his three varsity seasons -- not exactly the stuff of "Friday Night Lights" legend.
He still managed to land a scholarship to Stephen F. Austin University, crushed the NFL scouting combine, got drafted in the fourth round by the Rams, sacked Brady and, seven months later ...
Franklin-Myers was blindsided, but time has provided perspective. He believes it's part of his story and has made him the player he is and hopes to become.
"It's something no one wants to talk about, getting released, but it was a learning experience for me," he said. "It's something I tell my teammates: I regret not giving my all for (the Rams) and I felt like I could've done more. That's what drives me now."
After getting claimed on waivers by the Jets and spending 2019 on injured reserve, Franklin-Myers started to show his promise last season. He produced three sacks and 13 quarterback hits in 500 defensive snaps as a backup, becoming an analytics star and emerging as a popular "breakout" candidate for 2021.
With two sacks, three quarterback hits and one forced fumble, he isn't disappointing. Franklin-Myers, 24, became the youngest Jets player since John Abraham (2001) to start a season with a sack in each of the first two games. Counting last season, he has four sacks in his past five games.
The new coaching staff likes him because, at 288 pounds, he has the power to rush from the inside and the athleticism to generate pressure from the outside.
"I think the best way to utilize his skill set is a little bit of both, and that's what we're trying to feature with him," defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. "I would anticipate him having a really good year for a us, a career year for himself."
Franklin-Myers, known by teammates and coaches as "JFM," always wanted to be an NFL player even when things appeared hopeless for his high school team, the Greenville Tigers. In his senior year, 2013, they went 0-10 and were outscored, 530-189, according to Max Preps. They lost by scores of 48-0 and 63-7. Their most competitive game was a nine-point loss.
It was ugly. It was painful.
"It's hard to imagine, never winning a game in high school," said current Greenville coach Darren Duke, who was Franklin-Myers' defensive coordinator. "When you're at such a high level like John and your team is not successful, it's hard to be the flag bearer for the team."
He had an opportunity to transfer to another school, a chance to escape the losing, but he opted to ride it out at Greenville, which actually lost 40 straight over a four-year stretch. Former coach Marvin Sedberry recalled, "That was one thing that was special about him. He stayed in the program."
Franklin-Myers said he never felt embarrassed and always felt the support of Greenville (pop. 29,000), located about 50 miles northeast of Dallas. The stands were always packed on Friday nights. To this day, he's amazed by the power of high school football in Texas. The team's dismal record hurt his exposure in recruiting circles, according to Sedberry, who added, "He was a raw talent, but it kept him from getting a big-time, D1 offer."
He couldn't leave Greenville, no way.
"Once I say I'm in it, I'm in it for the long haul," Franklin-Myers said. "I did everything I could to leave my mark on that program and help them win. It didn't work out, but I tried my best."
Franklin-Myers learned a lot of hard lessons from his grandfather, who died about the time John was beginning high school. He had sloppy handwriting in grade school, so his grandfather made him practice for two hours every day after school. After a while, he had the best handwriting in his class.
"He was the greatest thing that ever happened to me and my sister," said Franklin-Myers, whose mother died when he was in foster care.
After an impressive career at Stephen F. Austin, he attracted the attention of NFL scouts at the NFLPA all-star game. Then it was off to the combine, where he really opened eyes by running the 40-yard dash in 4.75 seconds at 283 pounds. Soon he was on a Rams' defensive line that included the likes of Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers.
As he prepared for the 2018 draft, Franklin-Myers was introduced to former NFL player and coach Bryan Cox, who would become an instrumental figure in his life. They have the same agent, Cliff Brady, who connected them. Cox, 53, who grew up in poverty-stricken East St. Louis, Illinois, felt an instant kinship.
"We hit it off," said Cox, who played for five different teams (including the Jets) over 12 years. "We have some similar characteristics. I actually think his background was tougher than mine growing up because be bounced from place to place and was apart from his siblings. That's why he has trust issues.
"I got to know what makes him tick. He's very complex. He has a heart of gold, but he has a pouty side. You can either tell him to shut the f--- up or you can baby him through it. When he knows he can trust you, he'll run through a brick wall for you."
Evidently, the Rams lost faith in Franklin-Myers after one year. He admitted he got complacent after his rookie year. He played a lot that season (301 snaps in 16 games) and perhaps he figured he had secured a spot on the 2019 team. After all, he sacked Brady in the Super Bowl. That, Duke said, triggered a lot of "barber shop talk" in Greenville.
Then -- wham! -- he got fired. That shook him. It also forced him to re-evaluate. He realized there can be no cruise control in the NFL.
"I really like his mindset," Jets coach Robert Saleh said. "I really like the way he approaches the game. I really like the way he communicates with his teammates. He's been a blessing ever since the day he walked into this building."
Franklin-Myers, who played only seven snaps in Super Bowl LIII, is looking to get back to the big game. The Jets (0-2) have a long way to go, but things can change in sports. His alma mater, Greenville, is bidding for its third straight playoff season. He wants to help flip the Jets, and he will try the way he knows best.