"He called this afternoon [Super Bowl Sunday] about three and said, 'Coach, I'm calling to say thank you for the many ways you helped me,'" says Vernorris Bradley, who was Branch's receivers coach at Monroe High in Albany, Ga. "He said, 'Thanks for all the ways you influenced me. I just want you to know how much I appreciate all you did.'"
Usually, the response to these calls is something like, "Am I being Punk'd?"
"I mean, I was just floored," says Bradley, who retired after the 2003 season. "A guy that famous and successful can think about a guy who coached him so long ago? On the day of the Super Bowl? Man, that's somebody who hasn't forgotten where he came from."
Branch even called the coach who cut him from the middle school team. "He kicked me off the bus," remembers Branch, who at 5'9" is hardly bigger than the MVP trophy he was lugging around Jacksonville late Sunday night. "He said I was too small and I'd get hurt. I was so mad."
Of course, Branch has heard that Short People song his whole life. "The 49ers said that, too. [Before the draft] they said I was a good player but too small for this league."
Wonder if they still think that after watching Branch tear through the Eagles' secondary--the one with (cough, cough) three Pro Bowl players--like a minibike through a herd of drugged elephants. It was as if they didn't even see him. And he broke them for good in the fourth quarter when he just flat picked the pocket of cornerback Sheldon Brown, turning a sure interception into a 19-yard gain that set up the field goal that gave the Pats a 10-point lead.
Oh, and don't forget, it was Branch who double-handedly killed the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. I mean, Tom Brady is good, but he isn't throwing them to himself.
Of course, after Branch won the MVP, he thanked God, his blockers, his coaches--everyone but his dental hygienist and his own marvelous Velcro hands.
O.K., so Branch is a gratitude freak. So sue. Four years ago he nearly lost one of his newborn twin sons, Deiondre, to spinal meningitis. The baby was in a hospital being kept alive by machines. "I think [Deion] was having to decide whether it was time to unplug," says Bradley, when a "miracle" occurred. The infant suddenly responded to treatment.
On Sunday, Deiondre was chasing his brother, Deiontey, around a Super Bowl field of confetti. Now his father holds on tightly to anything that comes his way--spirals and sons.