The honor roll includes one Super Bowl MVP, a four-time Super Bowl winner, and a two-time NFL Championship game winner who added three Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach.
This weekend, however, marks the third year in a row a Cougar has not suited up for the over-hyped spectacle we call the Super Bowl. Although when Carolina faced the Pats last year, 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. Thankfully, his recovery was successful and the one-time Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year rejoined Carolina in spectacular fashion this past season, finishing second for NFL Comeback Player of the Year and being selected to participate in the Pro Bowl next weekend.
In 2003, another Cougar was watching from the sidelines. Marcus Williams, a WSU receiver and NFL tight end, was on injured reserve as his Raiders lost to Tampa Bay. The year prior, Drew Bledsoe, after coming off the bench to spark a Patriots victory in the AFC title game, watched as New England squared off against Fields, who was then a St. Louis Ram.
Five years ago former WSU All-American tackle Scott Sanderson was Super Bowl-bound --- albeit from the sidelines with a bum knee as his Tennessee Titans lost by a single yard to the Rams.
The season before that, in John Elway's 1999 swan song, it was another Copper Bowl Coug, Robbie Tobeck, then Starting at center for the Atlanta Falcons, who carried the crimson banner into the Super Bowl. Tobeck is currently the Seattle Seahawks' starting center.
In 1997, when the Packers beat the Patriots 35-21, Bledose, Chad Eaton and Ricky Reynolds played for New England while safety Chris Hayes was knocking heads for Green Bay.
In 1995, defensive end Lewis Bush was doing battle for San Diego against tight end Brett Carolan's San Francisco 49ers, who won 49-26.
AND THAT'S JUST the tip of Washington State's connection to the big game.
Former Cougar receiver Mike Wilson won four Super Bowls (1982, '85, '89 and '90) during his 11-year career with the 49ers. The '82 win was over a Cincinnati Bengal team that included legendary Cougar quarterback Jack Thompson.
Mark Rypien 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, who engineered a 42-10 rout of Denver.
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 first Cougar to play on a Super Bowl team was legendary 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. (Note: it is the belief among some, including our managing editor, that Super Bowl III was infiltrated by gambling concerns—among other entities--and was "thrown.") .
The first Cougar to start in a Super Bowl was Bernard Jackson. A record-breaking running back and kick returner in Pullman from 1970-71, he was a mainstay at defensive back for Denver's famous "Orange Crush," which lost to Dallas 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 --- a record 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. The Chargers lost.
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.
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.
Other Cougars believed to have played on a Super Bowl winner or NFL Championship team are: Eason Ramson (San Francisco, '82); 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.
Also of note is that three former Cougar stars came oh-so-close to championships in the early days of the pro game. 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 in ‘31. 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.
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