The next Buckeye Super Bowl hero? - Chris Graythen
This year, four former Buckeyes will play in the Super Bowl for one team – a record. However, they aren't the first, and certainly won't be the last Buckeyes to be on the biggest stage in pro sports.
The Super Bowl dates all the way back to 1967, and the first Buckeyes to play in it were in the famous Super Bowl III, in which Joe Namath guaranteed a victory over the Baltimore Colts and then delivered. The opposing runners in those two backfields, Tom Matte and Matt Snell, were both Buckeyes. Each was the leading rusher for his team, gaining over 100 yards a piece in a low-scoring affair. Namath gets all the credit, but Matt Snell was the star of that game, carrying 30 times for 121 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, Matte was the hard-luck loser, as he rushed for 116 yards on only 11 carries and still holds the all-time average yards per carry record for the Super Bowl.
Paul Warfield was the leading receiver for the Miami Dolphins in three Super Bowls (some remember him playing halfback in Ohio State's wishbone offense in the early '60s), and in Super Bowl VIII, his 'Fins knocked off fellow Buckeye Jim Marshall's Vikings. Marshall was on the losing end along with the rest of his teammates in four Super Bowls – three of the four losses coming at the hands of teams with former Buckeyes on them. Jack Tatum and Neal Cozie's Raiders twice victimized the Vikes in that era. In addition to his crippling hits, Tatum would go on to infamy for dropping the shoulder on Frenchy Fuqua that led to the so-called "Immaculate Reception", however, that was in an AFC Championship Game.
Skipping to the 1980's – the Cincinnati Bengals had a trio of Buckeyes in 1982 when they faced, oddly enough, the 49ers. Archie Griffin (the most famous) and Pete Johnson (the most successful in the NFL) played halfback and fullback, respectively, while Archie's brother (and backup corner back) Ray Griffin patrolled the defensive backfield on occasion. They lost a crushing defeat to the 49ers.
The so-called greatest team of all time – the 1985 Bears – had quarterback Mike Tomczak and safety Shaun Gayle as backups. Gayle is more famous for the play in which he returned a punt five yards for a touchdown the week before in the NFC Championship Game against the Giants, while Tomczak later started 73 games for both the Bears and Steelers. The season after, though, the New York Giants got their revenge. Linebacker Pepper Johnson and offensive lineman William Roberts won that Super Bowl. Reserve tight end John Frank had his turn with the 49ers (who defeated the Bengals again in 1988) but Roberts and Johnson decided to come back and win one more, earning another ring in 1990 thanks to Scott Norwood's miss. Pepper Johnson had made the Pro Bowl that year, and Roberts made the Pro Bowl the season after. Both were an integral part of Parcells' championship-caliber teams.
Radio color man Jim Lachey is also a Super Bowl champion. His two-year tenure with the Washington Redskins (Football Outsiders' best team ever by DVOA rankings) was capped off by the 1991 victory over the Buffalo Bills, where he was part of "The Hogs," one of the best offensive lines in NFL history. Five years later, three more Buckeyes would play for Bill Parcells' Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans. Terry Glenn and Keith Byars were offensive stars, while former Ohio State quarterback, Tom Tupa, did the punting. Glenn had set the rookie record that year with 90 catches. Byars scored a touchdown early on in the first quarter through the air, but Desmond Howard, that old Buckeye nemesis, put the game out of reach for the Packers with a kickoff return for touchdown late in the 4th quarter en route to MVP honors.
In one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever, superstars Eddie George and Orlando Pace faced off in 1999 for the Lombardi Trophy. George ran great for the Titans, but Orlando Pace's Rams were just a shade better – literally, as Titans receiver Kevin Dyson was tackled at the 1 on the last play of the game. Pace would play again in the Super Bowl in 2001, along with rookie defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, for the Rams, but again a Buckeye was thwarted by a Wolverine, as Tom Brady won his first ring. That was also Buckeye defensive line/linebackers coach Mike Vrabel's first ring, and he would win two more in four tries, famously catching a touchdown pass from Tom Brady in Super Bowl 38 to put the Pats ahead in the fourth quarter. He did the same thing in Super Bowl 39, in another Patriots victory. Unfortunately for his sake, the 2007 Patriots' undefeated season was ruined by the Giants, and two years later, Vrabel found himself in Kansas City.
There was a four-year moratorium on Buckeyes in the biggest of games until Santonio Holmes earned himself a place in Super Bowl lore with his famous game-winning, toe-tap catch to win Super Bowl 43 over the upstart Cardinals, and also earn MVP honors of the game. The next year, Will Smith and then-rookie Malcolm Jenkins came out on top of Anthony Gonzalez's Colts in an upset victory. Gonzalez was hurt for that game, but Jenkins made four tackles and Smith made one stop. The next season, A.J. Hawk and Ryan Pickett earned themselves a ring at the expense of Holmes' former team, the Steelers. Pickett had a huge part in that game, helping to force a Rashard Mendenhall fumble that led to the Packers extending their lead and never looking back. And finally last year, tight end Jake Ballard started due to injury and made a few catches in Super Bowl XLVI, spoiling Tom Brady's chances again. Ballard had a good first half but tore his ACL in the second half and had to leave the game.
What will this year's Super Bowl bring for Donte Whitner, Alex Boone, Ted Ginn Jr. and Larry Grant? Will one of them make a play such as Santonio Holmes or Mike Vrabel that lands them in all-time NFL lore?