Super Bowl LV is upon us. Bring the pigs in a blanket out of the oven, dip the chips in the queso, write your name in the betting squares, and most importantly, prepare for NFL history to be rewritten.
A potential dynasty is in the making in the heartland of the United States. Led by franchise phenom Patrick Mahomes, the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs look to become the first repeat Super Bowl champions since the New England Patriots ran it back in 2004.
But the master of NFL’s last dynasty lines up on the other sideline. The quarterback of those back-to-back Patriots titles, Tom Brady, is now achieving similar playoff success in his first year in Tampa. Returning to the postseason for the first time in 13 years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers look to complete their storied underdog run and become the first wildcard Super Bowl champion since the 2010 Green Bay Packers. It all goes down in Tampa, where the Buccaneers become the first team in NFL history to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium.
Whether Kansas City or Tampa Bay is crowned champion, here’s one certainty — former MAC players will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Below is a list of MAC players to watch for in Sunday’s action:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Scotty Miller, WR, Bowling Green
There’s a chance another team is representing the NFC in the Super Bowl if not for Scotty Miller. The 5’11” wide receiver scored one of the most pivotal touchdowns of the NFL Playoffs in the conference championship game. With six seconds remaining in the first half and ahead 14-10, Bruce Arians decided to live up to his “no risk it, no biscuit” mantra. Miller drew 1-on-1 coverage on the edge and burned Packers cornerback Kevin King on a streak route. Miller wound up with a 39-yard touchdown reception in the end zone after turning on the burners.
The Bowling Green alum excels as one of Brady’s best deep threats, leading the Buccaneers with 15.2 yards per reception this season while ranking fourth on the team with 501 receiving yards. Miller’s speed can be lethal, to a point where he recently claimed he was faster than Chiefs’ speedster Tyreek Hill.
Hill, an accomplished track star, responded by challenging Miller to a race at halftime.
While it’s doubtful Bruce Arians or Andy Reid would approve of their receivers exerting their energy over a halftime sprint, a 40-yard dash competition would definitely draw some eyeballs during The Weeknd’s scheduled performance.
Sean Murphy-Bunting, CB, Central Michigan
Only two players corralled multiple interceptions this postseason. But only one intercepted three passes — Sean Murphy-Bunting. The former second round pick from Central Michigan has recorded one interception in all three postseason games this year, and they’ve all turned the tide of the outcome. On wildcard weekend against the Washington Football Team, Murphy-Bunting picked a ball off in Tampa Bay territory and the Buccaneers exchanged that turnover for their first touchdown of the game.
The cornerback nearly took one to the house in New Orleans, returning a second quarter interception 36 yards to the 3-yard line. Tampa Bay scored a go-ahead touchdown on the following play to complete the game’s most pivotal sequence. Lastly, Murphy-Bunting intercepted Aaron Rodgers in the final minute of the NFC Championship Game first half. That pick set the Buccaneers in position for the Scotty Miller touchdown to attain a 21-10 halftime lead.
Murphy-Bunting is eyeing to extend his interception streak in his fourth career postseason game. This one comes with even more massive stakes than the last three.
Antonio Brown, WR, Central Michigan
Scotty Miller isn’t the only former MAC wide receiver on the Buccaneers roster. A member of Central Michigan’s 2009 MAC Championship squad, Antonio Brown, also operates as one of Brady’s numerous targets. Brown will be playing in his second Super Bowl after catching one pass for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV a decade ago.
Brown was a midseason pickup for the Buccaneers after missing the majority of the 2019 season. The wide receiver’s production has not returned to its All-Pro form, but the former Chippewa is still an effective option. Brown recorded 49 receiving yards and a touchdown in the opening round in Washington, but he was sidelined in Green Bay due to a knee injury. He is expected to play Sunday, remaining in pursuit of that Super Bowl ring he was a touchdown away from as a rookie.
Pat O’Connor, DE, Eastern Michigan
Pat O’Connor was one of the final selections of the 2017 NFL Draft. A fourth-year veteran that has rotated between the practice squad and active roster, O’Connor is finally making a name for himself at the professional level. A frequenter on special teams, he blocked a punt earlier this season in a win over the Broncos. In each of the past three games, O’Connor has logged over 90% of the team’s special teams snaps, so there is essentially a guarantee he’ll see on-field action in the Super Bowl.
O’Connor hasn’t appeared on defense yet in the postseason, but the former Eastern Michigan standout recorded his first NFL sack earlier this year. So if his name is called, the pass rushing ability is present within the Chicago native.
Javon Hagan, SS, Ohio
Javon Hagan has played one contest in his NFL career. That game happened to be the most important Buccaneers game in nearly two decades — the 2020 NFC Championship Game. Hagan found out minutes before kickoff that he was activated, and he played 10 special teams snaps in the win over the Packers. Starting rookie strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. missed the NFC Championship Game due to injury, but Winfield is set to return for the Super Bowl — a move which could affect Hagan’s status.
Still, Ohio’s beloved towel thief proved he is capable of stepping up when his number is called, even when doubted by a renowned sports debate panelist.
Kansas City Chiefs
Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Eric Fisher started at left tackle in the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LIV win last winter. Unfortunately, the former No. 1 overall pick will not be protecting Mahomes’ blindside this Sunday. Fisher suffered a torn Achilles injury in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game victory over the Buffalo Bills.
Fisher was an integral part of the Chiefs’ journey to reach a second consecutive Super Bowl, but former Carolina Panthers tackle Mike Remmers will serve as his replacement in a quest for another Lombardi Trophy.
Andrew Wylie, OT, Eastern Michigan
Eric Fisher played in Super Bowl LIV and will sit out Super Bowl LV with an injury. Andrew Wylie, another Michigan MAC alum, will do the opposite. After missing prior year’s showcase due to a high ankle sprain, Wylie is back as a starter in the trenches. However, he is now operating as a right tackle after formerly lining up as a guard.
Wylie has endured a lot the past two seasons, including an appendicitis scare in September, but the warrior of a lineman will finally receive some coveted Super Bowl experience. With one Super Bowl ring already in the books, the Eastern Michigan graduate looks to fortify the right side of the line to earn jewelry for another finger.
Demone Harris, DE, Buffalo
Demone Harris is the third MAC player on the Chiefs seeking a second consecutive Super Bowl ring. A walk-on at Buffalo, Harris rose to All-MAC status and landed an undrafted free agent contract with the Buccaneers in 2018. Now, the defensive end will suit up against the team which launched his professional career.
Harris made one appearance on the gridiron in 2020, collecting three tackles in a blowout victory over the Denver Broncos. He awaits his first postseason action, but as a valuable member of the practice squad, Harris owns a valuable opportunity to secure his second Super Bowl victory — not bad for a walk-on.