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Cleveland: Mississippians Storm Super Bowl XLIX


We call ourselves the Magnolia State, but where the Super Bowl matchup of Seattle and New England is concerned, Mississippi is the Linebacker State.

Start with Jamie Collins, from McCall Creek, Franklin County High School and Southern Miss. He’s the freakish athlete Bill Belichick has lately compared to Lawrence Taylor. He leads the Patriots in tackles — by a lot. Counter Collins with Seattle outside linebacker K.J. Wright of Olive Branch and Mississippi State. He leads the Seahawks in tackles, and, like Collins, also excels in pass coverage.

Such big human beings as Collins and Wright aren’t supposed to run as swiftly as they do. Or hit as hard as they do, for that matter.

So, Mississippi has produced the two leading tacklers in the game. And that’s just for starters. New England back up middle linebacker Chris White, the former C Spire Conerly Trophy winner, hails from Vancleave and Mississippi State.

The Patriots offer more Mississippi connections. Besides Collins and White, you’ve got former Ole Miss running back Brandon Bolden, former East Mississippi CC running back LaGarrette Blount and back-up cornerback and nickel back Malcolm Butler of Vicksburg and Hinds CC. And should the game come down to a last-second field goal, the Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, from Madison Central, has been there before. (Linebacker Deontae Skinner of Macon is on the Pats’ practice squad and Mississippi State and running back Stevan Ridley of Natchez is on injured reserve.)
Wright is joined on the Seahawks by D’Iberville’s Kevin Norwood, a wide receiver who played his college ball at Alabama.

As usual, Mississippi produces many of the main characters for football’s biggest stage.
It has been my good fortune to cover nearly 30 Super Bowls over the years. All have an included several Mississippians and often key players.

Jerry Rice and Eli Manning (twice) have been the two of the three Mississippi connections who have won Super Bowl MVP. Can you guess the third?

No, Brett Favre never won it but Deion Branch of Jones Junior College did in 2005 when he tied Rice’s record with 11 Super Bowl receptions in a single game. (Rice holds the career Super Bowl receptions record with 33 in four games. Top that!)

Manning has completed two-thirds of his passes for 551 yards and three touchdowns in two MVP performances. Clutch has been Eli’s Super Bowl modus operandi.

Mississippians who haven’t won the MVP have often played key roles. Favre threw for two touchdowns and ran for another when the Packers beat New England 35-21 in New Orleans, less than an hour’s drive from where Favre grew up in Kiln.

In perhaps the the greatest non-MVP Super Bowl performance, Rice caught 10 passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns in the 49ers’ rout of San Diego in the 1995 Super Bowl at Miami. Remarkably, he played the game with a separated shoulder and the flu. (Steve Young was MVP, which tells you how good he was.)

Tom Brady and Russell Wilson would be the odds-on favorites for MVP in the upcoming Super Bowl, but if you are looking for a longshot, don’t look past Collins. He stands 6 feet, 3 inches, weighs 250, runs like a running back and jumps like a small forward. Guys like Collins, Belichick says, “don’t grow on trees.”

Collins had a sack, strip and score called back for a penalty against Baltimore. He returned an intercepted pass back 25 yards against Indianapolis. He has led the Patriots with 15 tackles in the two playoffs games. He has become a big defensive play waiting to happen.

Maybe he’ll do it on football’s biggest stage. There’s always a chance somebody from Mississippi will.

RickClevelandRick Cleveland is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum and can be reached at rcleveland@msfame.com.

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
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