Big Ten Presence Felt at Super Bowl XLII

Jan. 31, 2008

by Jeff Smith

All season long the mantra of the National Football League has been, "Who wants it more?" This Sunday at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., the New York Giants and New England Patriots will answer that question in Super Bowl XLII. A total of 14 former Big Ten student-athletes representing eight of the 11 schools are members of the two remaining squads in this historic game, which feature eight first-team All-Big Ten selections and one consensus All-American.

The New England Patriots boast eight former conference players in Illinois' Eugene Wilson, Michigan's Tom Brady and Pierre Woods, Minnesota's Laurence Maroney, Ohio State's Mike Vrabel, Penn State's Kyle Brady and Purdue's Matt Light and Rosevelt Colvin.

The New York Giants are represented by Illinois' David Diehl, Michigan's Amani Toomer, Michigan State's Plaxico Burress, Northwestern's Barry Cofield, and Penn State's Jay Alford and Kareem McKenzie.

Michigan and Penn State lead all Big Ten schools with three Super Bowl representatives each as Tom Brady (NE), Pierre Woods (NE) and Amani Toomer (NY) were Wolverines, and Jay Alford (NY), Kareem McKenzie (NY), and Kyle Brady (NE) played in State College.

Eight of the 14 former Big Ten players in Sunday's Super Bowl earned first-team All-Conference honors at least once in their career. New England boasts all three multiple honorees in Ohio State's Mike Vrabel (1994-95-96), Minnesota's Laurence Maroney (2004-05) and Penn State's Kyle Brady (1993-94). A complete list follows:

Mike Vrabel, OSU (DE, 1994-95-96)
Kyle Brady, PSU (TE, 1993-94)
Laurence Maroney, MINN (RB, 2004-05)
Amani Toomer, MICH (WR, 1994)
Rosevelt Colvin, PUR (DE, 1998)
Plaxico Burress, MSU (WR, 1999)
Kareem McKenzie, PSU (T, 1999)
Matt Light, PUR (T, 2000)
Eugene Wilson, ILL (DB, 2001)



Of the 14 former Big Ten standouts that have advanced to Super Bowl XLII, only one is sidelined on injured reserve. New England outside linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, who played at Purdue from 1995-98, suffered a season-ending foot injury November 25 in a game against Philadelphia. Unfortunately for Colvin, the former Boilermaker has been unable to be healthy when the Patriots have been in position to capture the ultimate prize. Traded from the Chicago Bears to New England in 2003, Colvin suffered a career-threatening injury that season with a shattered socket in his right hip. While taking a year to recover, he missed the 2004 Super Bowl, but was able to take the field when New England captured its second-straight championship in 2005.

Mike Vrabel has been teamed with Colvin at the Patriots two outside linebacker positions this season and is the lone consensus All-American among the Big Ten representatives. Vrabel, who was named to the Ohio State All-Century Team following his All-American career in Columbus, set Buckeye career records with 36 quarterback sacks and 66 tackles for losses. In fact, he held the school's single-season mark with 13 sacks, until Vernon Gholston recorded his 14th in the 2008 BCS Championship Game against LSU in early January. Despite his defensive presence on the field, Vrabel has been known to check in at tight end in short yardage situations, especially in the Super Bowl. In Super Bowl XXXVIII, Vrabel, who is looking for his fourth championship ring with the Patriots, became the first defensive player to score a Super Bowl touchdown on offense since 1986. Overall, Vrabel has 10 career receptions - all for touchdowns.

Certainly some people feel that way about New England's Tom Brady. The former Wolverine has won three Super Bowls (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX) and claimed the MVP award in his first two tries. This year he has guided the Patriots to an undefeated 18-0 record, and in the regular-season finale against the Giants, he turned in an impressive performance against the Patriots' Super Bowl foe. In the 38-35 win over New York on Dec. 29, Brady was 32-of-42 for 356 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. What many people don't realize is that one of the NFL's greatest quarterbacks of all-time was not even an All-Big Ten selection. In fact, at one point he was seventh on the depth chart at QB. He rarely saw the field in Michigan's 1997 national championship season, but did share the quarterbacking position with Drew Henson to help the Wolverines win the Big Ten in 1998.

Former Michigan State wideout Plaxico Burress made headlines this week at the Super Bowl Media Day with his prediction of the score for Sunday's game. The Giants playmaker is banking on a 23-17 victory for New York, which seemed to perplex Tom Brady.

"We're only going to score 17 points?" Brady said jokingly when Burress' prediction was brought to his attention. "OK. Is Plax playing defense? I wish he had said 45-42 and gave us a little credit for scoring more points."

Brady may have a point seeing that New England set an NFL record with 589 points on the season, while Brady's 50 TD passes were also a single-season high. Burress hopes he can continue the momentum as well, as he is coming off a franchise-postseason record of 11 receptions for 151 yards in the Giant's NFC Championship 23-20 overtime win over Green Bay.

While we are on the topic of Plaxico Burress and Super Bowl predictions, current Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio offered his opinion about Plaxico this week on Dantonio served as a secondary coach under Nick Saban during Burress' career in East Lansing.

"Plaxico had a productive collegiate career, and he always played his best in the big games," Dantonio said. "As a big-bodied receiver, he created so many mismatch situations. Based upon what I saw in the NFC Championship Game, I have no doubt that Plaxico will be ready to go Super Bowl Sunday. He's hungry, and he's confident."

While at Minnesota, the Patriots Laurence Maroney became just one of three players in Big Ten history to rush for over 1,000 yards in each of their first three seasons. Maroney joined Michigan State's Sedrick Irvin and Wisconsin's Ron Dayne among those with that distinction, but his efforts were more impressive seeing that he shared the backfield with Marion Barber III. In fact, from 2003 to 2004, Maroney and Barber became the first running back tandem in NCAA history from the same team to each gain over 1,000 yards rushing in consecutive seasons. This season, Maroney set single-season career highs in rushing attempts (185) and rushing yards (835).

Of the 14 former conference student-athletes playing this weekend, only two were teammates in college. New York guard David Diehl and New England safety Eugene Wilson both played at Illinois and were selected in the 2003 NFL Draft. Wilson was chosen in the second round and 36th overall, while Diehl was taken at pick 160 in the fifth round. Ironically, the two former Illini stars grew up less than an hour from one another as Wilson hails from Merrillville, Ind., just outside of Diehl's hometown of Chicago.

No, we are not talking about 81-year-old head coach Joe Paterno. But of the 14 Big Ten players represented in this Sunday's Super Bowl, the youngest and oldest are Nittany Lions. Rookie defensive tackle Jay Alford will take to the field for the Giants, while 13-year veteran tight end Kyle Brady will look for yet another Super Bowl ring with New England. Ironically, New York tackle Kareem McKenzie splits the difference between the two, having been in the league for seven years now. Regardless of who wins Sunday, a Nittany Lion will walk away as champion. A total of 28 former PSU players have earned a total of 44 Super Bowl rings, while at least one Penn State alumnus has participated in 38 Super Bowls in the game's 42-year history.

Three of the Patriots are making an appearance on the 2007 NFL All-Pro first team, recognizing the best player at each position in the entire league. QB Tom Brady, OT Matt Light, and OLB Mike Vrabel each earned their first All-Pro honors this season.

Beyond the Super Bowl participants, OG Steve Hutchinson (Michigan/Minnesota Vikings) and S Bob Sanders (Iowa/Indianapolis Colts) were also named to the All-Pro first team.