Super Bowl's return to Los Angeles will have heavy Pac-12 flair
For the first time in nearly 30 years, the Super Bowl back is in the Los Angeles area and no surprise there's a heavy Pac-12 influence on the two teams. When the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams take the field for Super Bowl LVI in Inglewood, at least a dozen Pac-12 alums should be suited up on the active rosters.
This game will be a mini-reunion for the 2016 Pac-12 Champion Washington Huskies as five from that squad are on the rosters for the Super Bowl. The five Huskies are tied for the third most among alumni on the combined Super Bowl rosters behind Georgia and LSU.
From Washington to the #SuperBowl
— Washington Football (@UW_Football) February 11, 2022
Safety Taylor Rapp, the MVP of the 2016 Pac-12 Championship Game, had the best of his three NFL seasons this year. Rapp started all 17 games during the regular season and had a career-high 4 interceptions to share the team lead. He's been inactive for the first 3 playoff games with a concussion but is expected to return for the big game.
Greg Gaines has become a starter on the Rams defensive line this season. The 2018 Morris Trophy winner set career-highs this year with 4.5 sacks and 55 tackles. A 4th round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Gaines added half a sack in the Wild Card round win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Rams offensive lineman Coleman Shelton started at four different spots in the trenches in college and was first team All-Pac-12 in 2017 at center. An undrafted free agent in 2017, Shelton signed a free agent deal with the Rams in 2019 and made two starts during the regular season and has seen action on both offense and special teams in this postseason.
Tight end Drew Sample started 8 games during the regular season for the Bengals and 2 of the 3 playoff games so far. Known more for his blocking, the 2nd round pick from the 2019 NFL Draft, caught 11 passes in the regular season and one reception in the AFC Championship Game.
Sample's QB in college, Jake Browning, is on the Bengals practice squad as the team's 3rd QB behind Joe Burrow and Brandon Allen. Browning won a Pac-12 record 39 games in his Washington career.
Also from that 2016 Pac-12 Championship Game are two Colorado Buffaloes who are now hoping to win a championship with the Bengals.
Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie was a big free-agent acquisition by Cincinnati this offseason, signing a 3-year deal after playing his first four seasons with the Dallas after he was a 2nd round pick by the Cowboys in 2017. The first Colorado player to ever be invited to attend the NFL Draft, Awuzie had a career-high 2 interceptions this season and has 19 tackles in the Bengals' three playoff games.
Awuzie is re-united with his college teammate, defensive lineman Josh Tupou who starred on the Buffs defensive line from 2012 to 2016. An undrafted free agent who originally signed with the Bengals in 2017, Tupou started 9 games this year in the regular season and 1 more in the postseason.
The Bengals Director Of Player Personnel, Duke Tobin, is also a former Buff. Tobin was a backup quarterback for Colorado in the early 90's, throwing 34 career passes for Bill McCartney's squad from 1992-93.
Four of the five Huskies on this year's Super Bowl rosters were also on the 2018 Pac-12 Championship team that knocked off Utah in Santa Clara. The Rams also have two Utes who played in that game.
Kicker Matt Gay, who kicked a Pac-12 Championship Game record 53-yard field goal in that game, has been a key member of the Rams this postseason. The 2017 Lou Groza Award winner has gone 7-9 on field goals and 9-9 on extra points this postseason. A 5th round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Gay was 3-4 on field goals against his former team in the NFC Divisional Round including the 30-yard game winner as time expired to defeat the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Safety Terrell Burgess started just 2 games during the regular season but has been in the starting lineup twice more this postseason. Burgess was a 3rd round selection by the Rams in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Another former Utah safety, Eric Weddle, has taken the most unlikely path to this year's Super Bowl. A 2-time Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year before the Utes joined the Pac-12, Weddle actually retired from the NFL after 13 seasons in February 2020. In January when it was announced the Rams would be without safety Jordan Fuller for the playoffs and Rapp in concussion protocol, the 6-time Pro Bowl selection Weddle came out of retirement to join the Rams practice squad for the postseason. He's been promoted to the active roster each week during the playoffs and actually led the Rams with nine tackles in the NFC Championship Game.
— Utah Football (@Utah_Football) February 12, 2022
The state of Oregon will have a rooting interest for the Rams with players from both schools on the team.
Former Beaver punter Johnny Hekker will be in his second Super Bowl with the Los Angeles. The 4-time All-Pro had a record 65-yard punt in Super Bowl LIII when the Rams lost to the Patriots 13-3. Hekker was an undrafted free agent in 2012 and was a Ray Guy semifinalist for Oregon State in 2009.
Former Duck linebacker Justin Hollins will be in his first Super Bowl, joining Los Angeles when he was claimed off waivers during the 2020 season. The MVP of the 2019 East-West Shrine following his senior year at Oregon, Hollins started 2 games early in the season for the Rams before suffering a partially torn pectoral muscle but returned in December and has seen action in all 3 playoff games.
Hollins' teammate at Oregon, tight end Johnny Mundt, has been on injured reserve since tearing his ACL in Week 6. Mundt has started 3 games in 5 seasons with the Rams since signing with them as an undrafted free agent in 2017.
Another Pac-12 alum who will miss the game for the Rams is former USC wide receiver Robert Woods, who tore his ACL in November. Woods would have been playing in a Super Bowl in front of his hometown fans, having gone to high school roughly 5 miles from SoFi Stadium and college about 7 miles away. A consensus All-American for the Trojans in 2011 when he had 111 receptions and nearly 1300 yards, Woods had 5 catches for 70 yards in the Rams last Super Bowl appearance (LIII). The 2010 Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year was a 2013 2nd round pick by the Buffalo Bills before signing a 5-year deal with the Rams in 2017.
Stanford will be well represented on the Bengals sidelines with two active players and one coach.
Despite being an undrafted free agent in 2012, safety Michael Thomas is now in his 10th season in the NFL including a Pro Bowl selection in 2018. Thomas signed to the Bengals practice squad in October and was promoted to the active roster in November, even starting 1 game at Cleveland in January. Wide receiver Trenton Irwin was also an undrafted free agent out of Stanford, who originally signed to the Bengals practice squad in 2019. Irwin is 10th in Cardinal history with 152 receptions while his WR Coach for the Bengals, Troy Walters, is Stanford's all-time leader with 248. Walters joined the Bengals staff this season and was also previously an assistant at Colorado from 2013-15.
Another Bengals assistant has Pac-12 ties, as Offensive Coordinator Brian Callahan was a reserve quarterback at UCLA who was also the team's holder on field goals and extra points in 2005 and was later a graduate assistant for the Bruins. Another former Bruin, offensive lineman Xavier Su'a-Filo is on the Bengals practice squad as is former Arizona State defensive lineman Renell Wren.
Should one of these Pac-12 alums be named MVP of this year's Super Bowl, they will join a long list of former players from the Conference of Champions who took home the award.
|Player||Position||School||NFL Team||Super Bowl|
|Aaron Rodgers||QB||California||Green Bay||XLV|
|Mark Rypien||QB||Washington State||Washington||XXVI|
|Marcus Allen||RB||USC||LA Raiders||XVIII|
|Jim Plunkett||QB||Stanford||Oakland Raiders||XV|