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Super Bowl LI: Rutgers Alums Historical Impact on the Big Game

History will be made on this Super Sunday.

AFC Championship - Pittsburgh Steelers v New England Patriots
Ryan and McCourty lead the Pats
Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

With the entire football universe now aware that no college has more former players than Rutgers in the “Big Game” let’s count down the past games in which were influenced most by former Scarlet Knight players. NJ.com listed the “best players”, but this is a list of game by game influence.

17. Super Bowl XXII: Shout out to Tony Sagnella? Bill Hill, Joe Burke, and Lee Getz were also a replacement players in 1987 during the strike, but Sangella played for the eventual champion Washington Redskins. He did not play in the big game and I’m not sure if any of the “scabs” got rings.

16. Super Bowl XXXII: In the only one of his four Super Bowls Harry Swayne did not start, Denver’s first Super Bowl win turned out to be an ultra-competitive game. Too bad Harry was not a major reason why.

15. Super Bowl XXXI: Ray Lucas despite being a quarterback at Rutgers was a special teams warrior as an NFL rookie. The most memorable images of the game are Desmond Howard’s momentum changing kick return. The reason this game is not higher on the list good or bad is because Lucas was the outside man on the kickoff team. Mr. Heisman pose took it straight up the middle. At the 1:57 mark you can see a dejected Lucas (#15) in his only appearance in the entire clip as Howard rekindles a version of “the pose”.

DENNIS BROWN 49ERS
The Chargers offense with Harry Swayne at left tackle was not as much of a problem in Super Bowl as their defense in XXIX.

14. Super Bowl XXIX: Harry Swayne (above) was not the problem, but the reason this game is so low on the list is that the game was not competitive. The 49ers offense moved the ball at will and San Diego had less answers than they did the last few years on getting a new stadium.

13. Super Bowl XXVI: Rookie James Jenkins did not start, but as the blocking tight end saw action in this one. Prior to the game, the brash Buffalo Bills did themselves no favors when the defensive line coached poked fun at the Redskins elite offensive line known as the Hogs. Washington took it personally and the big boys up front manhandled the Bills. The game was 24-0 in the third quarter and even with eventual all-time sack leader Bruce Smith, Buffalo did not record a single sack.

12. Super Bowl XXXV: Harry Swayne did have the task of blocking Michael Strahan, but this was probably the second most dominating performance of any Super Bowl winner (personally I put it second to the ‘85 Bears). The Giants managed just one touchdown, a kickoff return, which the Ravens erased with a TD of their own on the ensuing kickoff.

11. Super Bowl XLVI: This one if you go off hype and controversy might be in the #1 slot. After making headlines for his Media Day [hair]cut Tiquan Underwood was cut again, this time from the team hours before the game. Ironically it was to make room on the 53 man roster for fellow former Scarlet Knight Alex Silvestro. Silvestro did not end up playing even though there is a nice clip in disbelief with his teammates when Welker dropped a ball that would have sealed it. Devin McCourty (7 tackles) and Nate Jones (no stats) in his final game did. This is a tough game to rank but after re watching the big plays, Devin was not involved in many of them. It was also such a strange game with the turnovers it’s still hard to fathom. Minus points that New England lost.

Super Bowl XLIII
Stapleton started at right guard in perhaps the most competitive super bowl ever.
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

10. Super Bowl XLIII: Darnell Stapleton as a rookie started in a game that started out slow but had perhaps the most exciting first half play in any big game when James Harrison intercepted a pass with no time remaining and took it the length of the field for a touchdown. After that it got wild, as the Steelers did throughout the playoffs they eventually figured out a way to give Big Ben just enough time to get the job done, the most famous Santonio Holmes tip toe catch in the corner of the end zone. That said Larry Fitzgerald, whose Big East reception record was broken by Sanu, was unstoppable in the second half as well.

9. Super Bowl XVIII: Bill Pickel did not start as a rookie but he gets extra points because the Raiders annihilated the defending champion Redskins 38-9. The Redskins to this day believe that they had a better team than the year before but were held to 283 net yards as LA registed 6 sacks and held Hall of Fame running back John Riggins to 64 yards on 26 carries after the Diesel had 166 yards on Super Sunday the year prior.

8. Super Bowl XLI: Gary Brackett and his team leading 8 tackles in a win. This game was the rainiest game in Super Bowl history and after Devin Hester’s electrifying opening kick return TD, the Colts eventually took control. The Bears never settled in and fell 29-17.

7. Super Bowl XXXIII: Harry Swayne and Denver had to wear down Falcons to close out a second straight Super Bowl win and John Elway’s career. Swayne ended up getting the best of Montville native Lester Archambeau. Terrell Davis ran for over 100 yards on 25 carries as the Broncos just wore out the Falcons forcing them to stack the box, then being able to complete deep passes. Elway only had 18 completions, but for 336 yards. Talk about going out on top!

6. Super Bowl XLII: The 18-1 game. Shaun O’Hara and the Giants outlasted the previously undefeated Patriots in the greatest upset since the famous Joe Namath guarantee in Super Bowl III. Despite the final excitement, the Giants offense only mustered 17 points and Eli Manning did run for his life, did you see that effort he had to make earlier on the play before David Tyree magic?

5. Super Bowl XLIV: Gary Brackett (13 tackles) and Eric Foster (2 tackles) gave it their all but the Saints were a team of destiny like no one I have ever seen in my lifetime. Brackett had followed up his previously impressive performance with the best stat line of any former Scarlet Knight in the big game. The Colts fell 31-17 and the blame fell on Peyton Manning, but this one isn’t higher because Drew Brees shredded the Colts D.

4. Super Bowl XXXIX: This game was exciting and living in Philadelphia at the time, it would have been the most incredible title run of any local team I would have ever experienced surpassing the 1994 New York Rangers. When TO went down with a broken leg ABC news spent the entire hour talking to people about it. The Eagles survived as their other playmakers like LJ Smith stepped up and were on the doorstep of winning their first Super Bowl, first NFL title since Chuck Bednarik in 1960. Facing the defending champion Patriots who hadn’t been caught for anything yet, the Eagles eventually fell 24-21. This game has an argument for number 1 because L.J. Smith was involved in two key plays. He committed a fumble in Patriots territory, their second of the game already in the first quarter. L.J. and the Eagles did regroup and he scored on a diving catch the game’s first touchdown (and first ever by a former Knight in the Super Bowl). This game is not higher on the list because the Pats were in control late by two scores until inside the 2 minute warning.

Super Bowl XXXIX
Smith’s Touchdown opened the scoring for Philly and RU in the SB era.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

3. Super Bowl XLIX: The previous record for Scarlet Knights in the big game was set two years ago when three of the same guys Devin McCourty (4 tackles), Duron Harmon (8 snaps, 0 tackles), and Logan Ryan (1 tackle on 14 snaps) were joined by the surprising Tim Wright. As discussed the Patriots always show up with a different game plan, this one did not include Wright (2 snaps) despite his 6 touchdowns in the regular season. The Patriots won on a game saving interception by their “other” defensive back Malcom Butler so in a way you could say the Knights were avoided on the play. On the other hand, everyone on the planet other than perhaps the open-minded Belichick and Seahawks coaching staff would have ran the ball rather than thrown in that situation anyway. Ryan and Harmon will surely have a bigger role this time.

2. Super Bowl XLVII: Anthony Davis (49ers) and Ray Rice (Ravens). The first Super Bowl to feature dueling Rutgers stars this game shattered all expectations in the excitement department, perhaps because it was played in the Big Easy. It also saw both players start in a game that was ultimately won by Baltimore 34-31 when San Francisco elected to go for the win inside the 10 yard line in the final seconds. The type of thing that makes Captain Khaki Jim Harbaugh different, sometimes it works out, and sometimes not. His brother in the Har-bowl (the first time two brothers faced off as head coaches) was the beneficiary.

Davis was tasked with blocking the game’s best edge rusher, Terrell Suggs who struggled initially as he was swallowed up by Anthony several times on the opening drive. The Ravens decided to move the smaller Paul Kruger to his side whose speed was tougher for Davis to block on passing downs, but got pancaked on running plays as Gore and Kaepernick combined for 172 yards rushing on only 26 carries. Rice got the last laugh even though stats say he only ran for 59 yards and caught 4 passes for 19. Numbers can be deceiving though in terms of “impact” because if you watch the game or even just highlights you see that to neutralize likely the best front seven since the ‘85 Bears, Rice was often put in motion or lined up at wide receiver. He took one for the team and even if he never plays another down in the NFL, does have a ring to show for his efforts.

1. Super Bowl LI: Jonathan Freeny is injured, but four former Scarlet Knights will be on the field. As mentioned in the what to what for, Sanu and the Knights defensive backs (McCourty, Harmon, and Ryan) even before a down is played are already four chess pieces in the extensive game planning. No matter who wins, the outcome will surely be influenced by this dynamic. I am often critical of news sources like ESPN that overestimate what has happened lately (acting as if the NFL didn’t exist prior to the Super Bowl era at times) but this is one time where history is upon us.