After Hester's Super Bowl return, ex-Lion Powell has chance to live same dream with Rams
The details on how he got into the stadium are a little fuzzy, but 11-year-old Brandon Powell found himself in the nosebleed seats for Super Bowl XLI, a 2007 matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears.
And while the game is mostly remembered for being the first championship won by Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, Powell's lasting memory from that evening was the game's opening kickoff, which legendary return man Devin Hester returned 92-yards for a touchdown.
"Being a little kid, you play Madden, you grow up watching the Super Bowl, you see all the cameras flash on the first kick return," Powell said. "It's like, man, I wish I could be in that position."
On Sunday, coin toss pending, Powell could find himself in Hester's shoes as those camera flashes light up the stands. It's been quite a remarkable journey for an undrafted rookie who is on his fifth roster in four years, and who a few months ago thought the game might be done with the 5-foot-8, 180-pounder from Deerfield Beach, Fla.
As a high schooler, Powell was a little more grounded than the kid who dreamed of playing in the Super Bowl. Weighing just 150 pounds at the time, he genuinely doubted he'd even have the opportunity to play college ball. But by the time he finished up at Deerfield Beach, he was a four-star recruit with interest from plenty of the country's top programs.
He ultimately settled on the University of Florida, where he racked up more than 130 catches across four seasons. That wasn't good enough to get him drafted, but Powell latched on with the Detroit Lions as an undrafted free agent. And after a strong preseason where he caught 16 passes and flashed some ability as a return man with an 80-yard touchdown on a punt, he earned a spot on the team's practice squad.
That eventually led to an opportunity on Detroit's main roster later that year, and in the season finale, Powell earned his the start. It turned out to be one of the most memorable days of his still young career, thanks to quarterback Matthew Stafford.
"That was like one of the moments I'll never forget," Powell said. "At Lambeau (Field), playing with him, I had like 96 yards in the fourth quarter and he called, himself, he called a play which he threw me a little 5-yard out route and got me 100 yards.
"Ever since then, Matthew Stafford was one of my favorite players," Powell said. "Even when I was in Atlanta, I was always rooting for him in Detroit. Being able to come out here, being on the L.A. Rams with him, it's surreal to me."
Powell's time in Detroit came to an end the following year, at the conclusion of training camp, and he would end up in Atlanta the next two seasons. From there, he signed with Buffalo this March, but fell short of making the Bills' roster. That led to a three-week stint with the hometown Dolphins, before Powell was cut again.
Back home with no immediate prospects, Powell wondered if his NFL chances had run dry.
"I was home for about a month," he said. "I really didn't know what I was going to do. I thought my football career was over with. They say it only lasts three years and being that was my third year, I went through a lot thinking it was all over. I'm not getting the calls, I'm home on the couch, going fishing, not working, not playing football. I don't have a job outside of football, so it was tough moment for me."
Then L.A. called in early November with a practice squad spot and Powell jumped at the opportunity. And in his fourth game with the team, he returned a punt for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings, helping the Rams clinch a playoff berth.
"I'm just thankful the Rams gave me the opportunity to go out here and play, and I'm thankful for my teammates for believing me to go out there every Sunday to help our team make big plays on special teams and win games," Powell said. "Now we're in the Super Bowl, man, I don't even know how to explain it."
The ability to be part of this run with Stafford, the veteran QB who thought enough of the undrafted rookie to give him a lasting memory in 2018, as well as another former teammate from Detroit, defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson, has made it all the more special for Powell.
"It's a crazy feeling to see how everything works out in the NFL," Powell said. "You go from a team like Detroit that hasn't (won) in the playoffs since I was born. Then to come and see those guys over here in L.A. — they were great players in Detroit and they just came over here to help a great team — just seeing everybody winning, that's a great feeling.
"Being an underdog, I always root for the players that have never been to the Super Bowl or was on a losing team. It's just a great feeling being in this position with those guys being where we were three years ago."