Since the Rams left St. Louis, I’ve found myself cheering for individual players (and sometimes coaches) rather than giving my full backing to any specific NFL team. Same will be the case for Super Bowl LI.
My list of five begins with a 22-year-old who played high school football for the powerhouse Edwardsville (Illinois) Tigers before anchoring the Nebraska Cornhuskers defense. The New England Patriots selected Vincent Valentine with their third round pick in the 2016 Draft (96th overall), and he’s become a backup nose tackle for the AFC champs. Valentine suffered a back injury and was listed as questionable for the Super Bowl, but remained on the active roster as of Saturday afternoon. Valentine grew up in nearby Madison, Illinois. Go there sometime and have a fish sandwich at Marko’s. They are legendary.
Speaking of Madison, that brings me to a guy who played some slow-pitch softball there, back in the day, during the NFL off-season. East St. Louis High and Western Illinois University alum Bryan Cox was one of the most-feared linebackers in the pros when he played from 1991-2002. He went to three Pro Bowls and was a member of the New England Patriots Super Bowl XXXVI champion team. The 48-year-old Cox now coaches linebackers for the Atlanta Falcons.
If the league gives out golden footballs to high schools with players whose teams played in the second fifty years of Super Bowls like they did the first fifty (like Henry Jones of SLU High and Kevin Greene of Granite City HS), then Webster Groves will get one for alum Adrian Clayborn. Unfortunately for him, the 2011 NFL first-round draft pick is sidelined with a biceps injury and won’t be taking the field for Super Bowl LI with his Atlanta Falcons teammates. The defensive end was an All-American at Iowa and played his first few years in Tampa.
A teammate of Clayborn’s in Atlanta is offensive lineman Ben Garland. Number 63 didn’t grow up around St. Louis, but he served as a public affairs officer at nearby Scott Air Force Base from 2010-2012. The 28-year-old USAF Academy alum is now a captain in the Colorado Air National Guard.
My fifth mention will be split by two former St. Louis Rams who left everything on the turf of the Dome each game and were fan favorites for their all-out style of play. Defensive lineman Chris Longand wide receiver Danny Amendola will both be suiting up for the New England Patriots in the big game. It is Long’s first time in the Super Bowl after being drafted #2 overall by the Rams in 2008. In addition to his on-the-field play, the Virginia alum made local headlines off the field by shedding light on homelessness in St. Louis and thanking loyal fans by covering the cost of one final tailgate party outside the Dome before the Rams left town. Amendola led the NFL in all purpose yards back in 2010 with St. Louis. Known for not being afraid to cross the middle of the field for tough pass catches, he suffered a broken clavicle and triceps damage during his career with the Rams.
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