Friday, February 1, 2008

Wildcats in the Superbowl

The American High Holiday is this Sunday and, like millions of other Americans (and even more world-wide), I will be in front of a television for four hours Sunday watching the Super Bowl. Throughout this pageantry of capitalism, we are often so overwhelmed by the luscious displays of corporate avarice competing for time with elaborate displays of patriotic fervor that we forget that the Super Bowl is, for the 110 young men on the field, the moment when they have achieved the pinnacle of their professional careers. That kickoff in Phoenix is the moment these men have spent their entire lives sweating, bleeding, and praying for. This fact is often used by the media to create human interest stories. For instance, this year we will all hear about Patriot linebacker Junior Seau who has played like a champion for many long years for a bad team and now he’s getting the chance to play for a title.

However, as a fan, the game becomes quite interesting if you know one of the players. If you are a part of the Wildcat family, you’ve been lucky. In recent years, even if “your team” didn’t make the big game, a number of players from your Wildcat family have been to the big game and we celebrated or mourned along with them.

The most recent Wildcat in the Super Bowl was Nick Harper, who is probably best known for his recovery of Jerome Bettis’ fumble during the 2005 AFC Championship game. Bettis and the Steelers were headed into the end zone when Bettis fumbled the ball for the only time that season. Harper, a cornerback, scooped up the loose ball and headed toward the Indianapolis Colts’ end zone, 99 yards away. It looked, for a moment, as if Harper was going to single-handedly de-rail Pittsburgh’s date with destiny; but Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger managed to get a hand on him and Harper stumbled just enough that the Steelers’ defenders were able to catch him before he could score. No Super Bowl for the Colts in 2006. However, the next season, Harper would get his Super Bowl ring as the Colts crushed the Bears 29 – 17 in Super Bowl XLI. Harper now anchors the secondary as a member of the Tennessee Titans.

Tyrone Poole was an integral part of the New England Patriot’s defense when they slipped past the Carolina Panthers, 32 – 29, in Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004. The irony of the story is that Poole was the Panther’s second-ever draft pick (taken with pick number 22 during the first round of the draft) during their expansion season of 1995. Poole, a cornerback, was a four-year starter while here at FVSU.

Another member of the Steelers, Greg Lloyd, represented the Valley at Super Bowl XXX in 1996. Lloyd, a linebacker, was a sixth-round pick of the Steelers in 1987. During his career, Lloyd, who is probably remembered as much for his feuds with the media and for accidentally cursing on live television after the 1995 AFC Championship game as he is for his stellar play, was a five-time Pro-Bowler and was voted, by fans, to the Steelers’ 75th anniversary all-star team. Lloyd led the Steelers’ defense which carried them to Super Bowl XXX, where they lost to the Troy Aikman, Emmit Smith, Michael Irvin, and Deion Sanders-led Cowboys’ team 27-17.

NFL Hall-of-Famer Rayfield Wright represented FVSU and the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl a total of 5 times, winning twice. Wright was a seventh-round pick of the Cowboys in 1967 (as a tight end). The “Big Cat” went on to a thirteen-year career as one of the best right tackles to play the game. He and the Cowboys won Super Bowls VI (1972, 24 – 3 over Miami) and XII (1978, 27 – 10 over Denver), dominating both games with their outstanding line play. Wright was also named to 1990’s “all-time Super Bowl team.”

As you sit down to this year’s game, remember these key points:

First, teams which score the game’s first touchdown are 30 – 11 to win. And even though there are no former Wildcats on the field, know that FVSU has rich connections to this All-American spectacle. Besides, there’s always next year for Tennessee, Jacksonville, Houston, or whomever is lucky enough to have a Wildcat in their ranks.

--Written by Dr. B. Keith Murphy

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