Peter King is on vacation until July 26, and he lined up some guest writers to fill his Monday spot on Football Morning in America. Today, it’s Chris Godwin, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver entering his fifth NFL season. Godwin, 25, was a third-round pick out of Penn State in 2017.
When I was approached to write this column, and I was told I could write about anything, I thought about it. Whatever it was going to be, I wanted a positive message to come out of it. There’s so much negativity in the world. I try to operate in the mindset of being positive and adding something good to people’s lives.
You might think it’s pretty easy for me to be positive. I’m 25 years old, I just married my best friend, I won a Super Bowl ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I get to play with Tom Brady, I signed a new contract to play this year with the Bucs, I’ve got a great family and great friends. Of course I’m going to be happy, and be positive, and have a tremendous amount of gratitude for where I am in life.
But part of that gratitude is my attitude. It always has been. The best people I’ve met have one thing in common, and it’s that they choose a positive attitude. That doesn’t just automatically come with things like money or fame. (I’ll use Tom Brady as an example of that later.) I hope when you read a little bit about my life, you don’t see it as me bragging. I truly believe what I’ve accomplished is because of hard work and the power of positive thinking. Regardless of who we are and how our lives are going, each day I think we can identify the good things we have going for us, and we can build on them. That’s the way I live.
You might have seen this little highlight on Facebook or Twitter or on TV after the Super Bowl. It’s me, waiting for my fiancé (now wife) Mariah on the field after the Super Bowl, and she comes running to me, and we just have this incredible moment together.
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) February 10, 2021
You can hear me—I can barely talk, it’s such a thrilling moment. But one of the reasons I was so emotional after the game is because of how crazy it all was. Winning the Super Bowl is crazy enough. But me being a Buc, winning that Super Bowl as a Buc, is the kind of story that’s hard to believe for me even now.
I’ll start at the beginning, 19 years ago, in a little town in a little state—Bear, Delaware. I was 6 years old, signing up to play football for the first time in the fall of 2002. I played in the Newcastle County Little League. They had these rules. If you were 65 pounds or less, you could play anywhere on the field; 75 pounds or less, the only position you could play where you’d touch the ball was tight end; and 75 pounds or more, you couldn’t touch the ball. I was one of the heavier kids because I was so tall for my age. So my first three or four years, I was a lineman on offense and a linebacker on defense. My entire game was centered on the physicality of football. I loved being physical. Everybody wants to have the ball in their hands, but those first few years for me, it was all about the team. All about winning. The physicality, the winning, that’s what really sparked the love of the game for me. Not scoring, not the offensive glory. I think that was really good for me, because since then, football for me has been about the team and the winning—not about the stats.
In that first year, I was put on a team called the Bucs. I didn’t know anything except I was on the Bucs, and I loved football. That was right around the time that I started to pay attention to what the NFL was. I became a Bucs fan. And it was in that same year that the Bucs won their first Super Bowl. That’s the first Super Bowl I watched. What do I remember about it? I was captivated. There’s Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Mike Alstott, Jon Gruden—that’s my team! They played great and won the game, and then I was really a Bucs fan.
Watching the game in my house in Delaware that day, it looked so awesome. I thought, These guys are doing exactly what I do, but they’re bigger and they get paid for it and it’s on TV. Man, I want to do that! From that day, that was Plan A for me.
I remember the adults used to say, “Well, you better have a Plan B.” I knew I should have one—I had a good head on my shoulders. But it was hard, because I really saw myself playing football forever. When I was playing organized ball, I wasn’t touching the ball. But when I was playing with my friends, I always wanted to be the receiver. I just had this natural skill of catching the ball. I would try to make the hard catches I’d see Randy Moss and Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson making.
I worked hard in seven-on-seven football in the summer before high school. I went to a respected program, Middletown High School in Delaware, and I earned a starting receiver job as a freshman. We went to the state championship game my freshman year and lost. But afterwards, I got my first scholarship offer from the University of Delaware. The head coach said to me, “I know we’re really not going to have a shot at you. But we figured it was worth giving you the offer, in case you wanted to stay home.”
At the time, being from a small state, it was a dream to play in college and then to make the NFL. But before that offer, I didn’t really know. Getting that offer, for me, was the moment it went from something I wanted to, This is Plan A, this is the only plan. Let’s go for this.
Going to Penn State helped me get better. I’m the type of guy who looked to see what the best players did, and I took mental notes, and I tried to do what they did, or more. I was watching the NFL every week, measuring myself. Then, as I was making more and more plays in my sophomore year and started to really ascend on my team where I became the number one option, I’m just like, this could really happen. I finished with 1,101 yards that year. I thought that was kind of a building block to get me noticed at the next level. After my junior year, I declared for 2017 draft. I thought I was ready.
There was another dream I had growing up: getting drafted. You get picked by a team and now this is your job. I was at the doorstep of achieving my dream. That weekend was such a dope moment.
We rented a room in a restaurant in State College for day two of the draft. I was there with lots of family members and Mariah. Going into the weekend, I felt like I had the production and ability to be a higher draft pick than where it looked like I was going to go: third round. My mentality, though, was that regardless of who picked me and where, I believed in myself so strongly that I would go into the situation and earn a roster spot. I knew I would earn playing time and play to the top of my ability. You hear guys sometimes all upset over where they got picked, mad at the teams that passed them up. I wasn’t going to be negative about it. I couldn’t control who picked me, or how high I went. But once I got picked, everything after that I could control—and I would.
Then the phone rings. I see the Tampa area code: 813. I’m thinking, No way. The Bucs! It’s coming full circle! I mean, I had absolutely no idea Tampa Bay would draft me. So I went to the team that was my first team as a kid, the team that helped me fall in love with football.
In my rookie year, 2017, my confidence built through the season, and I was doing okay, making some plays. But in the last two games, D-Jack (DeSean Jackson) was hurt, so I had my chance. I had a good game at Carolina (three catches, 98 yards), but I rolled my ankle that game. I didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday, then did a few things Friday but not much. In the NFL, one of the things you realize is you’ve got to play hurt. It’s not often that you’re 100 percent healthy. So I figured I’d just give it a go versus the Saints that last game.
Slowly but surely, catch after catch after catch was coming on passes from Jameis Winston. On the last drive, we got the ball just inside the two-minute warning at our 5-yard line. No timeouts left. We were down 24-23. We completed a fourth-down pass to keep the drive alive. My ankle was already killing me. Five, six plays into the drive, I was dead tired. We got to the plus side of the 50-yard line. The clock was still running, and it went down to 15 seconds, ball at the Saints’ 39. The call comes in: two go routes. Me on one side, Mike Evans on the other side. Naturally, I was a rookie. Mike’s the great vet, Mike’s gonna get this ball. So I ran as hard as I can and got by the DB. I looked up and the ball was coming. It felt like it was a movie, with the ball in slow-motion. I caught it, near the sideline. I’m like, I can get in this end zone. I can get there. If I don’t, the clock runs out—we lose. I got tackled as I’m going into the end zone. Rolled my ankle even worse. That was my first touchdown, my first 100-yard game, and my first game-winning touchdown. That sent my confidence through the roof.
We showed signs of playing well in my first three years, but we couldn’t put it together. That all changed last year.
It’s so amazing that a team that had all the change we had last year, with all the turmoil of COVID, could win it all. When free agency started, COVID started in the country that same week, basically. No one knew exactly how it was going to impact sports, let alone life. Then on top of that, we didn’t bring back Jameis, so who was gonna be our quarterback?
At a time like this, players are just like you. We didn’t know who we’d get. We heard chirping about Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater. Then I saw on ESPN it was down to Tampa and the Chargers for Tom. And I was like, well, it’s gonna be weird seeing Tom in a Chargers jersey, after seeing him with the Patriots for so long. He’s from California. Maybe he wanted to go home. I mean, both teams have a good set of skill players. They have Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and they had Hunter Henry. They had some good players. I thought there was no shot he’d come to Tampa. What would really draw him here?
Then I saw we’re agreeing to terms with Tom. I got a notification on my phone. Still I didn’t believe it. I went on Instagram to see if there was any other news on it. I saw a direct message notification. It said it was from “Tom Brady.”
I was like, no, no, no, no, nah, nah. This can’t be the real Tom.
It was the real Tom.
Let me pull it up on my phone. March 17. He said he was excited to play with me, he’s watched me a lot over the years. He even threw a college joke in there: “I won’t hold it against you that you’re a Penn State guy.”
Then he said congrats on your engagement.
I had just gotten engaged. And the greatest player of all time is DM-ing me wishing me good luck with my engagement and saying he’s excited to play with me! That was just shocking to me. I get drafted by Tampa, never thinking I’d ever have a chance to play with Tom Brady, and now, in the prime of my career, he’s gonna be my quarterback.
I told you earlier that some of the best people I’ve met are such positive people. A few of the receivers started catching balls from Tom at this local school, Berkeley Prep, in the spring. I walk up at 7:15 that morning. Is Tom gonna be a Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan-type, super-locked-in from the minute he gets out there? A real no-BS guy? But I walk up and he’s the friendliest guy. For someone who’s so accomplished and as highly regarded as he is, he was humble and receptive to the thoughts and opinions of his new teammates. We helped teach him the playbook, and he was super-receptive.
I remember thinking, “He’s out here to earn our respect, to show that he was here to work. No one’s gonna be given anything.” That message was received loud and clear. He never said anything like, Do what I say! Very cool for me to see someone so accomplished to be working as hard as he was, but also like just a normal person who wanted to be one of the guys.
The COVID restrictions really hurt teams trying to get important guys ready to play early. The first time we ever got in a huddle with Tom, the first time he worked on cadence with us, was a month before our first game. What you saw throughout the season was us having growing pains. We were figuring everything out on the fly. It sucked that we had to find out a lot of the ugly stuff in front of the world. But we kept working, and we figured it out.
For me, it was such a weird year. I got a concussion in week one, missed week two, injured my hamstring in week three, missed two weeks, scored a touchdown against the Raiders and broke my finger, missed another game. The rest of the season I played basically with eight fingers, because I had to tape two of them together to protect my broken finger. And then we got to the postseason, and that first game, in Washington, I dropped four passes.
What I’ve really grown to appreciate about sports, and being on this team, is that if you work hard and you’re trusted, you’re going to get more chances. We went to Green Bay for the championship game, and you know Florida teams aren’t supposed to win in Green Bay in January. It was freezing. But it was a day Tom kept coming to me. The trust was there, which was huge to me. I caught five passes for 110 yards. But the play I’ll never forget was actually a running play.
This was our 19th game of the season. I had not run the ball once. We were trying to run out the clock with a 31-26 lead at the Green Bay 43-yard line. Third-and-five. We had a five-wide personnel grouping on the field. I said to Mike Evans: “Mike, what are we doing? We got no running back on the field!” We cannot throw this ball. It’s insane to throw it. An incomplete pass would stop the clock, and we’d have to punt back to Aaron Rodgers.
So the play-call came in, and it was a play we hadn’t run in a game . . . a two-point conversion play. I would never have thought they’d try it with five yards to get, at a crucial point of the championship game. But the call was a toss-pitch to me. So let’s go.
I went in motion. Everything felt normal. But when Tom tossed me the ball, everything was in slow motion. Once I caught it, I looked and . . . you know how the first-down marker’s a yellow line on TV? I was seeing the yellow line on the field of where I needed to get to. It was like this weird phenomenon of being in slow motion, seeing the graphic on TV, like the yellow line, and then moving in slow motion. Then I took a couple steps and I finally reached the first down. We needed five yards. I got six.
I had this rush of emotion of like, Oh my God, we’re going to the Super Bowl. Nothing they can do about it. From what I had been through—not only the entire year but specifically through the postseason and those struggles—it was so incredible for my coaching staff to have the faith in me in that moment. They put the ball in my hands to send us to the Super Bowl. It was surreal for me. Then we won the Super Bowl, and there’s nothing more surreal than that.
This offseason, we became the first Super Bowl winner ever to bring back all of our starters, our key subs, our coach and coordinators and our GM. We appreciate what the GM, Jason Licht, did bringing us all back to take our best shot.
No one knows what kind of impact that will have, when you bring all the players back. But I think it’s a really good thing because we felt like we hadn’t played our best ball, even in the Super Bowl. We scored 31 points, but it wasn’t a great game for our offense for four quarters. We know we can be better. And I think we will be better. Our offseason gives us a really good opportunity to do that. But anybody who comes in saying we’re automatically in great position to win again because we brought everyone back? You’re lying to yourself. Familiarity guarantees nothing except giving us a good starting point.
As for Tom, we’ve thrown a few times this spring. His arm is so live. What I appreciate about him is the ball he throws is so receiver-friendly—the touch, and putting it right where you want it. I think, mentally, he has a good feel for the fact that he knows everyone isn’t like him. Because he’s like, “Okay, on to the next one.” But he’s not forcing his attitude onto anyone. Now, if we get to training camp, and guys keep saying, Remember this and that from last year? Then he’d say something. But I don’t see that happening. We know what the mission is.
Now I realize this may not be the way a sportswriter would finish a story, and I am happy to tell football stories, but I am more than a football player. Having my dream job is so dope and accomplishing the peak of what this profession has to offer is even better, but the feeling of gratitude goes far beyond that. I’m most grateful to be alive and to have loved ones. I’m grateful to be able to have all my loved ones present when I married my best friend, a day that was long overdue. This practice of gratitude has been such an eye opener for me because I now look at life through a different lens. There are fewer things that I feel I “have to” do. Instead, I “get to” do them. It’s greatly impacted my overall mood and my appreciation for life in every way. It’s made me more understanding and compassionate.
As a result, it has me wanting to share this with others because this is something that’s attainable for everyone. No, you don’t need to win a Super Bowl or get married to have gratitude. It’s a mentality shift. It’s choosing to see the good in a given situation over the bad. Life throws curveballs at all of us, some more than others, but acknowledging how amazing it is to be alive each day and finding light in even our darkest moment is a beautiful thing.
I want to end by wishing everyone a happy life with more love, more blessings, more gratitude . . . with the emphasis on gratitude.
1. I think as a society we need to do a much better job of communicating. It’s important not only to be able to have tough conversations with people you love/people that may have the same ideology as you, but also to be able to have civil discourse with people that have opposing thoughts to your own. It’s hard to find a compromise on any issues if you aren’t willing to actually listen to what the other side has to say.
2. I think basic human rights and common courtesies shouldn’t be political issues.
3. I think black bears are best. Bears, beets, Battlestar Galactica.
4. I think Dave Chapelle is a very important person in our society. His storytelling ability combined with his social commentary, all wrapped into a comedy act, is unmatched in this moment to me. Comedians have a unique way of showing us the light in even the darkest times and right now there’s nobody better at doing that than Dave, IMO.
5. I think board games and card games and party games (even when you aren’t at a party) should be more popular. One of my favorite things to do is to get together with family and friends and have a game night. Nothing quite like some intense competition and jokes with people you love. Two of my favorites are Taboo and Scattergories.
6. I think it’s amazing that over 7 billion people live individual lives and for brief moments at a time (in the grand scheme), some of our lives intersect and we have this joint experience. It’s just crazy to think about all of the things that have to happen in order for you and someone else’s life to intersect.
7. I think Mike Evans doesn’t get the respect he deserves for consistently being one of the league’s best wide receivers, as if he didn’t just break Randy Moss’ record for the most consecutive 1,000-yard seasons at the start of a career (seven).
8. I think photography is such a dope art form. To be able to freeze a moment in time and capture the essence of whatever is in frame is amazing. Within each frame is a story and the great thing is the story that the photographer may have wanted to portray can be and probably is completely different from what the viewer observes. It’s also crazy that me and you can take a picture of the same exact subject back to back and the results will still be different because we all see the world differently.
9. I think very often people direct their anger at the wrong place. We do too much reacting before we think, so we end up directing reactionary anger at someone or something that doesn’t deserve it. This can put us in a tough spot. It’s like if an order gets messed up at a restaurant, most people just get snappy at the server because that’s the representative you’re dealing with, but you may not be certain that it was the server’s fault. It could have been a mishap in the kitchen or been a result of many other problems. Let’s try to think before we act.
10. I think fantasy football was a nice way to get fans more invested in teams/players that may not be on their favorite team, but far too often it seems like it’s caused fans to see players as objects in a game and not people. For example, if a guy has a season-ending injury, someone who has him on fantasy is pissed because that hurts their chances of winning their league. But they don’t realize the player who was injured will still be injured and going through a tough recovery process whenever their fantasy season is done. They don’t realize that for the rest of the year, that player can’t do what he does to provide for his family. They don’t even consider the emotional toll that injuries take on players. Before we were professional athletes, we were people just like everyone else, and we will always be people just like everyone else. Please consider that next time you play fantasy football.