This past weekend, Rodney Adams was introduced to Bears fans when he caught a 73-yard touchdown pass in a preseason game against the Bills just hours after his wife had given birth to the couple's first child.
The second-year receiver celebrated the TD by rocking the football like a baby in honor of his wife, Madison, and their newborn daughter, Brexleigh Michelle. After the game, Adams beamed with pride while addressing reporters, a huge smile plastered across his face.
Although his eventful weekend thrust Adams into the spotlight, the 26-year-old has been molded by a backstory that deserves to be shared with the masses as well. It's one that includes more adversity, heartbreak and perseverance than most people experience in an entire lifetime.
The smile that seems to be permanently etched on Adams' face belies a difficult past that includes a personal health scare and a horrific family tragedy that led to a brief retirement from football.
Adams starred at Lakewood High School in Tampa when a routine physical exam before his senior season revealed what doctors thought could be a hole in his heart. Held out of spring practice, Adams feared that his football career was over. But after visiting a specialist, it turned out to be a false alarm and Adams was given a clean bill of health.
Relieved and excited to return to the football field, Adams earned first-team all-county and second-team all-state honors after generating more than 1,200 all-purpose yards as a senior. He received a full scholarship to the University of Toledo and headed to Ohio to begin college.
Life was good for Adams, but that changed in the blink of an eye on Nov. 3, 2013—just a couple of months into his freshman year. Adams will never forget that day, when Toledo coach Matt Campbell pulled him aside to deliver the tragic news that Adams' mother, Michelle Conway Scott, had been killed in a car accident just outside Atlanta.
"She was my rock, the centerpiece; that was her," Adams said. "You have to go through it to experience the pain and how strong you really are.
"Just knowing I had to be the man of the family and stay strong through that whole process, I don't want to say you have to experience it to experience it, but you just have to because it's a different type of strong to lose your mom at a young age. "
After his mother passed away, Adams became the legal guardian of his younger brother and transferred from Toledo to South Florida so he could be close to his family. The NCAA granted him a hardship waiver that enabled him to continue playing football without sitting out a year.
Since losing his mother, Adams has dedicated not only his football career but everything he does off the field to her as well. The tragedy changed his perspective on how he approaches his everyday life.
"Just waking up every single day is a blessing," Adams said. "Being in the situation that I'm in—playing in the NFL, having a family, waking up breathing—it's a blessing. You can't take the little things for granted. That's what I had to learn. I just learned how to be grateful for everything. Just be happy; smile. Smiling at someone can change their day. It's just a blessing to wake up every morning. You have to be thankful. Tomorrow's not promised."
Adams starred at South Florida, catching 137 passes for 1,982 yards and 16 touchdowns over three seasons. The 6-1, 188-pounder was selected by the Vikings in the fifth round of the 2017 draft. He appeared in one game as a rookie but spent most of the season on Minnesota's practice squad.
Still grieving his mother and missing his family, Adams decided to retire from the NFL in April 2018.
"I was battling demons," Adams said. "I was going through a lot, trying to be strong for my family. But I cracked, I broke. I was battling a whole bunch of stuff. I just had to walk away from the game. You couldn't see it because I was always smiling, but everyone is battling something."
Looking for a diversion, Adams traveled to Los Angeles to visit some friends who were actors. They set up an audition for him with a talent agency and he was able to land some exciting opportunities.
Fittingly, Adams was cast as a football player and caught a touchdown pass in a 2019 episode of "Modern Family," playing against the team that Cam Tucker (Eric Stonestreet) was coaching. Adams has also filmed commercials for State Farm, KFC and Muscle Milk.
Although he enjoys acting, Adams woke up one day in January 2020, looked at his wife and told her that he wanted to return to football. Just like that.
"I just woke up and I was ready," Adams said. "Whatever I was feeling before, it was all gone. I kid you not. Everything was washed away."
“You can’t take the little things for granted. That’s what I had to learn. I just learned how to be grateful for everything.” Bears WR Rodney Adams
Adams joined the Colts Jan. 29, 2020 but was later waived Aug. 2. He signed with the Bears Aug. 20 and spent last season on the practice squad.
After participating in the offseason program this spring, Adams has excelled throughout training camp and the first two preseason games. His 73-yard TD came against the Bills on a contested catch, as did an equally impressive 25-yard reception a week earlier versus the Dolphins. Through two preseason games, Adams leads the Bears receivers with seven catches for 146 yards.
While he's striving to earn a spot on the final roster, Adams insists that he isn't obsessed with studying the depth chart at a deep receiver position.
"I don't even look at it," he said. "We're family in that room. I'm just blessed to be in that room. We all go out and compete every single day and we help each other get better every day."