The NFL season comes to a close Sunday with the playing of the 51st Super Bowl featuring the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots. No Cougar player appears on either team's roster but WSU’s history on the NFL’s biggest stage is a rich one. The honor roll includes the aforementioned Super Bowl MVP and four-time Super Bowl winner, plus a two-time NFL Championship game winner who added three Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach.
Former Cougar receiver Mike Wilson won four Super Bowls (1982, '85, '89 and '90) during his 11-year career with the 49ers. That '82 win was over a Cincinnati Bengal team that included legendary Cougar quarterback Jack Thompson.
Mark Rypien (pictured above) threw for 292 yards and two TD passes to win Super Bowl MVP honors in the Washington Redskins' 37-24 victory over Buffalo in 1992 -- a game in which the Redskins' defense included his former Cougar teammate, defensive lineman Eric Williams. Rypien also won a Super Bowl ring in 1988 as the backup to Redskins starter Doug Williams.
Besides Rypien and Wilson, two other WSU products are multi-ring winners: offensive tackle Allan Kennedy (San Francisco, '82 and '85) and defensive tackle Erik Howard (New York Giants, '87 and '91).
The most Cougars in a single Super Bowl is four – a standard achieved twice. In 1997, when the Packers beat the Patriots 35-21, Drew Bledsoe, Chad Eaton and Ricky Reynolds were with the Pats while safety Chris Hayes was knocking pads for Green Bay. In 1982, Thompson was with the Bengals while Wilson, Kennedy and tight end Eason Ramson were with San Francisco.
LaVerne "Torgy" Torgeson, a star linebacker and center for the Cougars, has the most storied championship resume of any Crimson Soldier. The five-time Detroit Lions Pro Bowler helped his team to consecutive NFL titles in 1952 and '53, and as a long-time assistant coach with the Redskins he earned Super Bowl rings in '83, '88 and '92.
Jason David was a member of the 2006 Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl XLI Championship team. David was a mainstay on Washington State's three consecutive 10-win teams from 2001-03 and earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors as a senior. He concluded his college career with 16 interceptions –- three of them for touchdowns -- in 35 starts.
The Cougars were also represented in Super Bowl XL vs. Pittsburgh by Seahawks starters Marcus Trufant and Robbie Tobeck. That was Tobeck's second trip to the big game, having also started for Atlanta when it lost to Denver in 1999.
THE FIRST COUGAR TO play on a Super Bowl team was receiver Gail Cogdill. The Spokane native and 1960 NFL Rookie of the Year with Detroit was a member of the Baltimore Colts when they faced off against Joe Namath and the upstart New York Jets in one of the most storied games in professional history: Super Bowl III, a 16-7 upset win by the Jets in 1969.
The first Cougar to start in a Super Bowl was Bernard Jackson. A record-breaking running back and kick-returner in Pullman under Jim Sweeney from 1970-71, he was a mainstay at defensive back for Denver's famous "Orange Crush," which lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the 1978 title game.
And back before the AFL and NFL merged, no Cougar had a better title game than did Keith Lincoln in the AFL Championship of 1963. The legendary Moose of the Palouse racked up 329 yards of total offense --- 206 hashes on the ground and 123 yards in receptions --- to lead his San Diego Chargers to a 51-10 thrashing of the Boston Patriots.
In 1964, Lincoln and the Chargers returned to the AFL title game, against Buffalo, but he left the contest early with an injury sustained on what is considered one of the most jarring tackles in pro history. San Diego lost. That Chargers team also included a rookie from WSU, safety Ken Graham, who would later be considered one of the greatest defensive backs in AFL history.
Of course, no talk of pro glory would be complete without mention of WSU's two greatest contributions to the NFL: Hall of Famers Mel Hein and Turk Edwards.
Before the Super Bowl, when the king of pro football was simply called NFL Champion, Hein and Edwards managed to divvy up three championships in five years, as Hein's New York Giants -- coached by Gonzaga University grad Ray Flaherty -- won the crown in '34 and '38, and Edwards' Washington Redskins in '37. Hein's Giants also finished as NFL runners-up five times in his illustrious career.
OTHER COUGARS BELIEVED to have played on an NFL Championship team are: Dick Farman (Washington, '42); Don Paul (Cleveland, '54 and '55); Harland Svare (New York Giants, '56); Clifford Marker(New York Giants, '27); Al Hoptowit (Chicago Bears, '43); By Bailey (Detroit Lions, '52; also won a CFL title with B.C. Lions in 1964) and Jerry Williams (Los Angeles Rams, '51).
In addition, former Cougars Robert Akins and Kay Bell won titles in leagues that competed with and/or ultimately folded into the NFL. Akins was on the Cleveland Browns in 1946 when they captured the first of five straight AAFC (All-American Football Conference) or NFL championships. And Bell, who missed the NFL title by a touchdown to Turk Edwards' Redskins in 1937 while with the Chicago Bears, collected two titles in 1940 and '41 while playing for the Chicago Bullies of the old, old AFL.
NOTABLE TITLE NOTES:
• Injury has prevented a number of Cougars from suiting up with their teams in the Super Bowl. When Carolina faced the New England Patriots in 2004, the Panthers dedicated their fight to former Cougar linebacker Mark Fields , who was forced to sit out the season after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. In 2003, Marcus Williams, a WSU receiver and NFL tight end, was on injured reserve as his Raiders lost to Tampa Bay. And in 2000, WSU All-American tackle Scott Sanderson was on the sidelines with a bum knee as his Tennessee Titans lost by a single yard to the St. Louis Rams.
• The 1995 Super Bowl included two Cougars -– Chargers defensive end Lewis Bush and 49ers tight end Brett Carolan's -- who started for WSU in the 1992 Copper Bowl.
• Three former Cougar stars came oh-so-close to championships in the early days of pro football. Elmer Schwartz, QB of the Cougars' 1931 Rose Bowl team, narrowly missed an NFL title in his rookie season, as his Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans finished one game back of the Green Bay Packers. First-team All-American Cougar running back Bob Kennedy's New York Yankees (later merged into the Baltimore Colts) of the AAFC were edged out for the title two seasons in a row, 1946 and '47, by the juggernaut Cleveland Browns, while standout Cougar end Nick Susoeff's San Francisco 49ers fell to the Browns in 1949.