Kyle Eckel takes Navy to Super Bowl

Kyle Eckel (Getty Image)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Despite his father's military background — Steve Belichick coached at the Naval Academy for 33 years — and his own normally dour demeanor, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick does not run his team like the military.

Backup fullback and Navy graduate Kyle Eckel can attest to that.

"We're not waking up at 5 a.m. to do jumping jacks," Eckel said.

No, but Eckel could wake up on Monday morning as a Super Bowl champion.

Eckel signed with the Patriots on Oct. 1 as a practice squad member and two weeks later scored his first NFL touchdown against Dallas on Oct. 14. He also led the Patriots in special teams tackles three times during their perfect regular season.

Like several other Patriots, Eckel came from Miami, where he was cut after less than a season. He knew his role would be as a complementary player coming in.

"(Belichick told me I would be doing) anything and everything they needed," Eckel said. "I would be a utility guy, a special teams guy, a mop-up guy, a fourth-down and short yardage guy. Heck I would do anything they would ask me to do. Point and I'll go."

Eckel considers it a minor miracle that he's even on the roster, much less at Super Bowl XLII. As this perfect season has developed, Eckel has noticed that his teammates haven't necessarily looked at this game as an inevitable moment.

"We can't really look ahead into a (perfect) record," Eckel said. "It makes perfect sense to listen to that advice. Listen to the guy with the resume like coach Belichick and the players on that squad. That's foolish."

Eckel left Navy as one of its most prolific rushers — and amid some controversy. He was expelled from the Navy 17 months after his graduation and ordered to repay $96,000 in education costs, according to the Boston Globe.

Eckel told the Globe he never knew he had been recommended for dismissal at any time during his military career. He was also connected to two serious off-the-field incidents, but was cleared in both cases.

His play made him a Belichick favorite, as Steve recommended Eckel to Bill. The Pats signed him twice — a month before his commission into the Navy and in October of 2007, after his release from the Dolphins.

Eckel was obligated to a five-year commitment to the Navy. He did ask the Navy several months before his commission began to release him of his commitment, but he was denied, the Globe reported.

Eckel is just the 12th Naval Academy graduate to play in the NFL, and just the third to play in the Super Bowl — the others are Dallas' Roger Staubach and New England's Max Lane.

And, despite his troubles at Navy, he said he's proud to carry the service academy's banner into Sunday's game.

"I hope they're (Navy) reacting well," Eckel said. I played hard for them for four years and I owe them a lot as well. I learned a lot up there. It's a tremendous experience.

"I have great relationship with everyone up there — the coaches, the professors, everyone. Anyone who graduated from there would say the same (about their relationship with Navy)."

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is covering the Super Bowl in Arizona. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on the Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.

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