FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — How unlikely a hero was Chris Hogan in the Patriots’ 36-17 win over the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game?
He played only one season of college football, and only after he had played three seasons of lacrosse at a school known more for its football program. But even after starring for the Penn State lacrosse team, Hogan couldn’t shake his passion for football and decided to enroll at Monmouth University for one season of football in his final year of NCAA eligibility.
Fast-forward to Sunday, and Hogan, 28, turned out to be Tom Brady’s primary target. He enjoyed a career day with nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns, electrifying a sellout crowd at Gillette Stadium.
“I just took advantage of my opportunities,” the mild-mannered Hogan said after the game. “Just happy to be able to help this team. It’s been a long journey, but I’ve worked really hard to get here. I couldn’t be happier to be here, to be part of this team.”
Hogan, who grew up in Wyckoff, New Jersey, and was a schoolboy star in football and lacrosse at Ramapo High, was in the center of a postgame media mob at his locker. He was reveling in the moment, delighted to be a part of another Super Bowl run by the Patriots.
“If someone had told me this was going to be a game I’d look back on 30 years from now and remember exactly what happened . . . I’m just happy for everyone,” he said. “All these guys in the locker room who have worked so hard to get here. I was just happy I was able to help this team. This is a special moment for all the guys in the locker room.”
Hogan scored the Patriots’ first touchdown in the first quarter, catching a 16-yard pass in the end zone after Brady got some extra time from his offensive line to survey the field.
“He just kind of sprung free in the back of the end zone,” Brady said. “I kind of let it loose, and he was open.”
Hogan scored his second touchdown in the second quarter off a flea-flicker. Brady handed off to running back Dion Lewis and Lewis pitched the ball back to Brady. The quarterback found Hogan streaking from left to right and hit him perfectly in stride.
“I saw ‘Hoges’ burning up the field, and I threw it out there for him,” Brady said.
Hogan played four seasons with the Bills from 2012-15 and had relatively pedestrian numbers, never producing more than 450 receiving yards in a season. He became a favorite of Rex Ryan in 2015, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick also saw something special in him and signed Hogan to a free-agent deal in the offseason.
Hogan had only 38 catches for 680 yards and four touchdowns, but his average of 17.9 yards per catch was tops in the NFL.
And now he has a chance to be a Super Bowl champion.
“You never take anything for granted,” he said. “I’m just trying to take it all in right now. It’s incredible.”