Friedlander: 5 ACC connections to Super Bowl LVIII
Usher at halftime and Taylor Swift on camera every time Travis Kelce does something on the field.
There’s a little something for everyone in Super Bowl LVIII.
Even ACC fans.
There are 9 players (6 for Kansas City, 3 for San Francisco) with connections to the conference on the active rosters of the participating teams. Ten if you count Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who started his career at NC State before transferring to South Florida.
They might not get as much TV time as T-Swizzle – provided that she makes it to the game on time after her Saturday night concert in Tokyo.
But some, including these 5 players, could have an impact on who wins and who loses the Lombardi Trophy.
Shade of Gray
Being a backup tight end on the Kansas City Chiefs is a little like being the Vice President. You serve an important purpose. But your role is minor compared to the person ahead of you in the pecking order. And few if anyone ever notices what you do.
But that’s OK with Noah Gray.
While everyone in the world other than his family and maybe few Duke fans will be focused on Travis Kelce and his famous girlfriend, Gray will be ready to step in and contribute when called upon. The former Blue Devil has caught 28 passes for 305 yards and 2 touchdowns this season. He has receptions in each of the Chiefs’ 3 playoff victories thus far.
And if his team wins Sunday, the championship ring he’ll wear on his finger will be exactly the same as the one Kelce gets.
Ray-Ray going for ring, ring
Speaking of rings …
49ers’ receiver and return specialist Ray-Ray McCloud III might be playing in his first Super Bowl. But if his team wins, the championship ring he earns won’t be his first. McCloud already has some bling in his jewelry box from his time at Clemson. He was a member of the Tigers team that beat Alabama in the College Football Playoff title game in 2016.
McCloud is in his 5th NFL season, 2nd in San Francisco. Although his contribution on offense has been limited to only 12 catches for 135 yards this season – 7 of which were for 1st downs – his greatest impact in Sunday’s game will come on special teams.
He led the NFL in punt return yardage in 2021 as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. This season, he’s returned 24 punts for an 8.4 yard average and only 7 fair catches while averaging 22.5 yards on his 10 kickoff returns.
Thuney will sit this one out
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said earlier this week that he “would probably bet” that All-Pro left guard Joe Thuney won’t be ready to play on Sunday because of a pectoral injury that kept him out of the AFC Championship Game against Baltimore 2 weeks ago.
He should have gone ahead and made that wager. He is in Vegas, after all. Because on Friday, Thuney was ruled “out” for Sunday’s game against the 49ers.
Thuney did everything he could to be ready to play. He was still hopeful as recently as Wednesday when he said he was “feeling alright” and that he was “just trying to control what I can control.” But Reid told Peter King of NBC Sports that while Thuney might be sufficiently recovered from his injury, questions about his status are a “strength thing.”
Backup Nick Allegretti will start in Thuney’s place.
The former NC State star can take consolation in the fact that he’s already played in 3 Super Bowl wins – 2 with the New England Patriots and 1 last year with Kansas City. This time, though, he’ll have to settle for watching from the sideline.
Betting on Butker
Harrison Butker already has 2 Super Bowl rings and 1 Super Bowl-winning field goal on his resume. His 27-yarder with 8 seconds remaining provided the winning margin for the Chiefs last year against the Philadelphia Eagles. If history repeats itself on Sunday, Butker’s team won’t be the only winners.
Sports apparel supplier NOVUS Clothing Company has pledged to donate new varsity football jerseys to every public high school team in both Kansas City and San Francisco if Butker makes a game-winning field goal in the final minute against the 49ers.
And that’s not all.
If the former Georgia Tech kicker is named the MVP of Super Bowl LVIII, NOVUS will donate $100,000 to the Hope Center of Kansas City – a charitable organization that “works to provide opportunities for sustainable growth and development for children and families.”
No kicker has ever been named a Super Bowl MVP. But if you think that this will be the year it happens, you might want to wager a few bucks on your hunch. The payoff is +16000, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Feliciano’s friends and rivals
Fans of the Buffalo Bills were disappointed when Tyler Bass’ potential game-tying field against the Chiefs sailed wide right in their AFC Divisional Round playoff game last month. But no one was happier than 49ers offensive guard Jon Feliciano.
It’s not that the former Miami Hurricane dislikes the Bills. The opposite is true. Having played for Buffalo from 2019-21, he didn’t want to play against several good friends on his former team.
“I was worried, because that would have broke my heart,” Feliciano told the Buffalo News.
While Feliciano is happy about not having to face the Bills, he’s not exactly thrilled about going up against the Chiefs. They have something of a history.
Feliciano and Dawkins coming to Josh Allen’s defense. pic.twitter.com/zAQYWcZ9Y1
— Bradley Gelber (@BradleyGelber) January 25, 2021
While playing for Buffalo, Feliciano was involved in a scuffle late in his team’s 2021 AFC Championship loss to Kansas City. It was sparked by the Chiefs’ Alex Okafor standing over quarterback Josh Allen after a late-game sack. Feliciano took exception and came running in to knock Okafor to the ground.
The good news is that Okafor is no longer with the Chiefs. So there’s a good chance Felicano isn’t holding a grudge.