GLENDALE, Ariz. – Alan Branch’s NFL career was thrown into uncertainty in August.
Branch was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. He was immediately cut by the Buffalo Bills, and it remained to be seen when he might play again.
Five months later, though, the Rio Rancho native and graduate of Cibola High School is preparing to play Sunday for New England against Seattle in the Super Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The defensive tackle ended up missing the first eight games this season as he resolved the charges against him and waited for a team to sign him. Now, he realizes how fortunate he is to have his career back on track after the Patriots picked him up in late October.
“It’s definitely a situation that turned in my favor,” Branch, 30, said. “I’d definitely rather not have sat on my couch for half a season, but to have an opportunity to play with these guys on this team and playing for this coaching staff and being able play in the Super Bowl, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
It’s the second Super Bowl experience for the seven-year veteran, who was taken by Arizona in the second round of the 2007 draft out of Michigan. But Branch didn’t play for the Cardinals in their 27-23 Super Bowl loss to Pittsburgh in February 2009.
That shouldn’t be the case Sunday. Branch was in for 26 snaps in New England’s playoff win over Baltimore and 25 in the win over Indianapolis in the AFC Championship, and a similar number against the Seahawks is expected.
Making Sunday’s game even more intriguing is it’s against a former team. Branch spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons with Seattle.
“It’s definitely exciting to be back (in the Super Bowl),” Branch said. “It’s kind of bringing three teams that I’ve played for all into one in the Super Bowl, having played in Arizona and for the Patriots against Seattle. So it’s pretty cool.”
What’s really cool for Branch is simply playing at all this year. He was arrested during the preseason in Cheektowaga, N.Y., just outside Buffalo. Police stopped him and said he was vomiting out the driver’s side door of his vehicle and that he tested for a blood-alcohol content of 0.14, over the presumed legal level of intoxication of 0.08 percent.
“It was rough just in the fact, you know, I didn’t have a job,” Branch said of being released by the Bills. “I know a lot of people out there made the same mistake that I have, but no excuse. … I just want to go out there and play my hardest. … I’m just happy I have another opportunity to keep collecting some checks and playing a game I love.”
Branch has been playing it with a lot of intensity, and been on the winning side in eight of the 10 regular-season and playoff games in which he has appeared this season. He’s become a key reserve on New England’s defensive line and has gotten plenty of respect from teammates.
“I’ve learned some things from him on stopping the run,” said Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones. “I’m just in my third year now, but I’ve been learning things from him. … He’s a very cool guy with a very cool personality. He hangs out with everyone. He’s very outgoing, and it’s good to have guys like that around.”
Patriots defensive lineman Zach Moore has a locker next to Branch’s. He said his teammate has a “chip on his shoulder” after his Super Bowl experience didn’t go as well as he had hoped six years ago.
Now, not only is Branch expected to play, he will do so not far from his hometown. With that in mind, Branch has bought 18 tickets for family members to attend the game.
“Being on the big stage doesn’t get much better than this,” Branch said. “This will be the first time that I have substantial playing time in the (Super Bowl). So I’m excited. I can’t wait to be out there. … I’m going to have a little hometown support.”
Branch did lament his paycheck will “definitely look smaller” after the cost of the tickets is deducted. Overall, though, he can’t complain how things have gone after the way his season started.