By Craig Bohnert | Feb. 05, 2017, 10:42 p.m. (ET)
Tom Brady #12 and Nate Ebner #43 of the New England Patriots celebrate after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 to win Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on Feb. 1, 2015 in Glendale, Ariz.


When the New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in an impressive comeback during Sunday’s Super Bowl LI, it added a final flourish to the dream year experienced by safety/special teams player Nate Ebner, one that carried him from one sporting pinnacle to another.

The dream began in March, when Ebner returned to his sporting roots in a bid to play with U.S. rugby team as part of the sport’s return to the Olympic program in its smaller seven-a-side format. Several hurdles had to be cleared, including securing a leave of absence from the Patriots to pursue the rugby endeavor, as well as regaining rugby playing form to a level that would earn him a place on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team.

Not only did he make the team and become the first active NFL player to appear in an Olympic Games, he contributed to its success in Rio, scoring a try in the 26-0 victory over Brazil and another against eventual Olympic champion Fiji. Although the Eagles finished ninth, Ebner was able to experience the thrill of representing his nation on sport’s most visible stage, although he had to leave that stage immediately following his performance to rejoin a Patriots squad that already was deep into pre-season camp.

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Back in helmet and shoulder pads, Ebner regained his NFL form quickly and enjoyed the best season since he was drafted out of Ohio State in 2012, recording 19 regular-season, efforts that were recognized with selection to the Associated Press All-Pro second team.

Ebner adds his Super Bowl LI ring to his 2016 Olympic ring and his Super Bowl XLIX ring earned two years ago, when he was in only his third season with the team.