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February 5, 2010

Super Bowl Bulldogs

Great Scott!  Jake "the Snake" in Super Bowl VII—a 14-7 victory for the Dolphins over the Redskins. (Photo: Sports Illustrated)

According to UGA's Sports Communications department, there have been 46 different Bulldogs appearing a total of 70 times in the Super Bowl, including Charles Grant and Jon Stinchcomb of New Orleans and Tim Jennings of Indianapolis in this Sunday's big game.

Jennings, making his second appearance, is one of 16 Dogs to play in the Super Bowl multiple times.  Five Georgia players (Clarence Kay, Guy McIntyre, Patrick Pass, Jake Scott, Bill Stanfill, and Fran Tarkenton) have been in the game three times while Richard Seymour has done so on four occasions.

Of the 67 appearances prior to Sunday's game, 37 (55+ percent) have come in a winning effort.  Of the 44 Super Bowls, Georgia has been represented by at least one player in all but nine of them and, since Super Bowl XXIX in 1995 (San Francisco vs. San Diego), there has been a Bulldog in 15 of the 16 games.

In the first 18 Super Bowls, there were 19 Georgia players.  Since then, in 26 Super Bowls, 51 Bulldogs have participated.  Even more impressive, 28 Bulldogs have appeared in just the last nine Super Bowls (3.1 players per game) compared to only 42 in the first 35 (1.2 per game).

Tight end Jermaine Wiggins is the lone Dog to have played in Super Bowls with different teams (2002 with New England and 2004 with Carolina, ironically, against New England).

With his appearance this Sunday, Jon Stinchcomb will give Georgia its first set of brothers to appear in Super Bowls.  His brother Matt was with Oakland when it faced Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII of 2003.

No offense to one of the nation's best sports information departments, but UGA's idea of "Bulldogs in the Super Bowl" is a tad misleading.  Instead, it should be referred to as "Bulldogs who were on a NFL team's roster at some point during a season when that particular team eventually made it to the Super Bowl."

From what I gather, nearly one-third of the 67 Super Bowl "appearances" before Sunday by former Bulldogs were by players who may have been on one of the two participating teams' Super Bowl rosters; however, they either did not play in the game, were injured, or inactive.

The best example of this flexible interpretation of "Bulldogs in the Super Bowl" is Daryll Jones—a reserve, true freshman quarterback on the Bulldogs' 1980 national championship team and a starter at cornerback in 1983.  Jones is listed as a member of the Denver Broncos' 1988 Super Bowl squad.

Jones did play in one game on Denver's 1987 team but it came as a "scab" during the NFL strike of that season.  The strike lasted long enough for the striking NFL players to be replaced by scabs, who played a three-game schedule in October.

The Broncos would eventually make it to Super Bowl XXII against Washington but the scabs, including Jones, had been replaced long before by the Denver regulars.

Nevertheless, there have been many legitimate appearances by Bulldogs in the history of the Super Bowl, including three players who received MVP honors.

Along with those three achievements, in no particular order, here are my top 10 Super Bowl performances/moments by former Georgia players:

Best rushing performance:  TERRELL DAVIS (Super Bowl XXXII)
Likely the greatest outing in a Super Bowl by a Georgia Bulldog, Davis' performance against Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXII is one of the best in the game's history.  Davis rushed for 157 yards on 30 carries and three touchdowns, including the final one from a yard out, breaking a 24-24 tie with 1:45 remaining in the 1998 game.  The former Georgia running back also caught two passes and picked up MVP honors in Denver's 31-24 upset victory over the Packers.

Best passing performance:  FRAN TARKENTON (Super Bowl VIII)
There's not much to choose from in this category: Green Bay's Zeke Bratkowski was only a combined 0-for-1 passing in the first two Super Bowls, David Greene never took a professional snap, much less one in Super Bowl XL for Seattle, and Fran Tarkenton quarterbacked three losing Super Bowl teams.  In his first, a 24-7 loss to Miami in 1974, Tarkenton was 18-of-28 passing for 182 yards, no touchdowns and was intercepted once.  Trailing 24-0, he did rush for Minnesota's only touchdown on a four-yard run in the final quarter.    

One for the record books:  ANDRE HASTINGS (Super Bowl XXX)
In his third year in the league, Pittsburgh's Andre Hastings, a reserve wide receiver, had averaged just three catches in the Steelers' 18 previous games while not making a single start.  Nevertheless, against Dallas in the 1996 game, the Macon native caught 10 passes for 98 yards in a 27-17 loss.  At the time of the game, the 10 receptions by Hastings were the third most in Super Bowl history.

Best receiving performance:  HINES WARD (Super Bowl XL)
The very best receiving performance by a Bulldog in a Super Bowl, however, is from another Steeler—Hines Ward in the 2006 game—a 21-10 Pittsburgh win over Seattle.  In earning MVP, Ward rushed once for 18 yards and caught five passes for 123 yards, including a fourth-quarter, 43-yard touchdown on a pass from receiver Antwaan Randle El on a fake reverse.

Best defensive performance:  JAKE SCOTT (Super Bowl VII)
Miami safety Jake Scott, who remains Georgia's all-time career leader in interceptions after 41 years, picked off two errant passes thrown by Washington quarterback Billy Kilmer in the 1973 game.  The second, which occurred in the fourth quarter, was intercepted in Scott's own end zone and returned 55 yards.  In the 14-7 Dolphins win, Scott also returned two punts for four yards and was recognized as the game's MVP.

Best performance by a returner:  JAKE SCOTT (Super Bowl VIII)
A year later in the Super Bowl of '74 (See Tarkenton above), Scott returned three punts for 20 yards and two kickoffs for 47 yards.  Scott's 67 combined return yards is 46 more than the second most by a Georgia player in a Super Bowl.  The former Bulldog also recovered a Vikings fumble in the Miami win.

A great career winds down:  MACK STRONG (Super Bowl XL) 
Fullback Mack Strong had been a 12-year veteran, all with Seattle, before finally being recognized as a Pro Bowler for the 2005 season.  Soon afterwards, his Seahawks were making their first trip to the Super Bowl in franchise history (See Ward above).  Mostly a blocking back, Strong had averaged only a little more than two touches (rushes + receptions) per regular-season game.  However, against the Steelers, he carried twice for seven yards and caught two passes for 15 yards.  The following season of 2006, Strong made the Pro Bowl for a second time before retiring after the '07 campaign.

Best place-kicking performance:  KEVIN BUTLER (Super Bowl XX)
Butler, who still remains the only placekicker in the College Football Hall of Fame, was a rookie on the great 1985 Chicago Bears team that thumped New England in the Super Bowl, 46-10.  Butler was perfect against the Patriots, making all five of his PATs and three field goals, all in the first half.  A quarter-century later, his three successful field goals are still tied for second most in Super Bowl history.

Best punting performance:  BOBBY WALDEN (Super Bowl IX)
Walden played halfback at Georgia and was a gifted pass catcher, but was at his best when punting the football.  So good, in fact, he would punt 14 years in the NFL, primarily playing for the great Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the 1970s.  Against the Minnesota Vikings in the 1975 game, Walden averaged 40.5 yards on six punts—the only 40+ punting average in the three Super Bowls where an ex-Bulldog punted.  Walden did have one of his punts blocked for a touchdown but he and the rest of the Steelers still prevailed, 16-6.

A couple of old timers:  JIMMY ORR (Super Bowl III)
In 1968, a 33-year-old Jimmy Orr, only two years from retirement, led Baltimore in receiving yards from his split end position.  Played in Miami, Super Bowl III was supposed to be an easy victory for he and the Colts (18-point favorites) over a cocky Joe Namath and the New York Jets.  Late in the first half and as the Jets led 7-0, Orr was involved in what is recognized as one of the most well-known plays in Super Bowl history.  From its 41-yard line, Baltimore ran a flea-flicker, leaving Orr wide open running towards the end zone.  Quarterback Earl Morrall decided to throw to running back Jerry Hill instead and his pass was intercepted as the first half expired.

Trailing 13-0 late in the third quarter, the Colts benched Morrall in favor of 35-year-old Johnny Unitas, who had thrown only 32 passes all season.  Orr was held without a reception until catching three fourth-quarter passes from Unitas for 42 yards.  Unitas and Orr provided Baltimore a spark but it wasn't enough as the Jets won in a shocking upset, 16-7.

Later, when asked about the infamous pass that was never thrown his way on the flea-flicker, Orr said, "Earl said he just didn't see me.  I was open from here to Tampa."  There has been some speculation that Morrall couldn't see Orr because the Florida A&M marching band (in blue uniforms similar to the Colts) had gathered behind the end zone for the halftime show.  

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