And here we go! The fifty-third offering of America’s BIG game — or if you prefer to spell it out the old-fashioned way — this Sunday is Super Bowl LIII.
The game is held in a BIG stadium, in front of a BIG audience, with BIG names, and BIG bucks on the line. However, if recent history tells us anything, the BIG plays will come from LITTLE-known players.
It’s almost tradition now. In a game that promotes the league’s star-power, in will step the most unsung player to win the ballgame. Oh, there are the Nick Foles, Doug Williams, and Mark Rypien types that rise to the occasion and have the games of their lives. But I’m really talking about the mysteriously obscure players that come out of nowhere.
Remember Malcolm Butler? In 2014, Butler was an un-drafted free agent from remote University of Western Alabama, who didn’t even play in the first half of Super Bowl XLIX. However, it was the nickel-back’s interception on the goal line with 20 seconds remaining that robbed Seattle of the win, and preserved the 28-24 win for the Patriots.
Tom Brady was so impressed that he gave Butler his 2015 Chevrolet Colorado, awarded for winning Super Bowl MVP.
Butler is still in the league. However, Super Bowl stardom doesn’t guarantee long-term success.
How about David Tyree? The Giants’ wide receiver made one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history, trapping Eli Manning’s desperation heave against his helmet while the Patriots’ Rodney Harrison was draped all over him. The 33 yard gain on the final drive led to the winning touchdown, and New York grabbed Super Bowl XLII. Tyree never did another thing in the NFL, but that one play made him famous.
Washington’s Timmy Smith played only three seasons in the NFL, but will always be remembered for his Super Bowl XXII performance. The unheralded RB rushed for a Super Bowl record 204 yards.
Colts fans will remember Chris Reis, or not. The special teams grunt fell on the football following the Saints’ on-sides kick gamble to start the second half of Super Bowl XLIV. The Colts led 10-6 at the half, but momentum switched entirely after the play. To add insult, Indianapolis Broad Ripple product, Tracy Porter, swiped a Peyton Manning pass, and returned it 74-yards for the game-clinching TD.
My personal favorite among the unsung is LB Mike Jones. The St. Louis Rams were clinging to a 23-16 lead, but the Titans were marching for the tying score. With six second left, quarterback Steve McNair found WR Kevin Dyson at the 10-yard line. All of Dyson’s momentum was moving forward, but Jones hooked him just in time to drag the outstretched receiver down as the clock expired.
Jones is my favorite, because it was a play exclusively fundamental to football. A tackle was the most important play of the game.
Don’t be surprised if the BIG play, Sunday, isn’t a LITTLE surprising.
John O. Marlowe spent most of his career as a “pine-time” player, and was football's first DH (dummy holder) for Wabash College in the late 1970's. New to the art of the sports beat writer, Marlowe has spent forty years – and nearly $11,000 – following Indiana high school sports.