Canadian tight end Antony Auclair has spent an entire season up close with legendary quarterback Tom Brady in Tampa Bay.
The 27-year-old from the small Quebec town of Notre-Dame-des-Pins — population less than 2,000 — has been behind the scenes with Brady and seen what it takes to play on the biggest stage in sports with 100 million viewers watching the Super Bowl.
Auclair had played three years after signing an undrafted free agent contract following the 2017 NFL Draft with the Buccaneers — all of them losing seasons — prior to Brady arriving in the Sunshine State. The six-time Super Bowl champion led the Bucs to an 11-5 record and three road playoff wins in Washington, New Orleans, and Green Bay to become the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
“This has really been a magical year. So much about football is about the relationships you get with your teammates, your coaches, and understand we put a lot into it,” Brady said in a videoconference.
Even though Brady and Auclair have yet to connect for a reception, the six-foot-six, 256-pound tight end has made an impact for Tampa Bay. It might not be recognizable to the average viewer, but Auclair’s efforts as a blocker have drawn the attention of his teammates, including Brady.
“It gives you a lot of confidence to know that this guy trusts you. That’s big for a player like me that’s not even from the States. To get his confidence and trust in you, that’s a lot for me,” Auclair said.
“He’s a great teammate. He’s gotta be the greatest teammate of all-time.”
If Auclair didn’t switch positions at Laval University, it’s likely he never would have become a teammate of Brady or played in the NFL. Prior to joining the Rouge et Or, who have won a Canadian university record 10 national championships, Auclair mainly played quarterback, but head coach Glen Constantin moved him to tight end at the U Sports level and developed his blocking skills.
“Antony made it to the NFL with hard work and sacrifice and talent. Now to make it to the Super Bowl is beyond all our expectations, considering the many great players with outstanding careers who never had this opportunity. We at Laval are very happy and proud of him and wish him all the best,” said Constantin.
“I am sure that playing alongside Tom Brady is a great football experience. I imagine it would also strengthen the notions of doing things the proper way and paying attention to details, which go a long way outside of football.”
“The way Laval is treated, everything is done at a professional level. The way we train, practice, it’s like an NCAA or NFL team. The way the team and whole organization of Laval prepared me to get here is by doing things in a professional way,” Auclair said.
That approach carried Auclair to Tampa Bay and it’s helped him play four seasons in the NFL, earning nearly $3-million USD with the chance to become the first player ever from Laval to win a Super Bowl. He’s even notching an unofficial football statistic with the Bucs while helping stars like Rob Gronkowski score touchdowns.
“If I block a defensive end and then Gronk is catching the ball 30 yards down the field and scores, it’s called an assist,” Auclair said.
The hockey reference is appropriate for a Canadian citizen and it displays his contributions to the team beyond the box score. Auclair has played a partial role in the 31-year-old Gronkowski reaching the end zone seven times to unleash his patented Gronk spike.
“I’m with Gronk every day, all day, and this guy is funny. Gronk’s always smiling. It’s hard to be down when you’re around that guy,” Auclair said.
The upbeat attitude has brought the Bucs together quickly despite it being Brady’s first year in Tampa Bay. The 43-year-old QB is preparing for his tenth Super Bowl in 21 NFL seasons. He has by far the most experience any player could have in the NFL championship game, though he doesn’t believe it will play a factor in the final outcome.
“Experience doesn’t matter, playing well matters. The team that wins is not going to be the most experienced team, it’s going to be the team that plays the best,” Brady said.
“We gotta prepare the best, we gotta execute the best. We gotta perform the best under pressure, and if we do that, we’ll be champions.”
Auclair has had sleepless nights since the Bucs won the NFC Championship Game, but the message from Brady has calmed his nerves. It’s the first Super Bowl of Auclair’s career and he enters the match up against the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs with the most clutch quarterback in the history of the NFL on his side.
“I’m so excited. It’s just a crazy year with COVID, all the protocols we’ve been through, not having that many fans at games,” Auclair said. “It’s felt so much different, but it’s unbelievable to be here.”