IOWA CITY, Iowa — When offensive lineman Cole Croston suits up for the New England Patriots on Sunday, he will be the 43rd former Iowa football player to compete for a Super Bowl team, according to university annals.
The Hawkeyes have put together record-breaking performances such as Green Bay tackle Bryan Bulaga becoming the youngest starter in Super Bowl history as a 21-year-old in 2011. Others have competed in heartbreaking defeats such as Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux last year and Carolina Panthers center Bruce Nelson in 2004.
Some suffered injuries that prevented them from taking part, such as Atlanta’s Adrian Clayborn last year and Indianapolis Colts safety Bob Sanders in 2010. Many offensive linemen cleared the way for their team’s victory, such as the Chicago Bears’ Jay Hilgenberg and Mark Bortz, the Baltimore Ravens’ Marshal Yanda, the New York Giants’ Bob Kratch and the Dallas Cowboys’ John Niland.
Croston is the only former Iowa player on an active roster for the game this Sunday between his Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. On the Patriots practice squad are wide receiver Riley McCarron and center James Ferentz, the latter of whom won a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos two years ago.
In all, Iowa players have left a mark on their teams in the Super Bowl era. As a result, we’ll name Iowa’s offensive, defensive and special teams MVPs of the previous 51 Super Bowls.
Offensive Super Bowl MVP
Tight end Dallas Clark played in the 2007 and 2010 Super Bowls with the Indianapolis Colts. In a 29-17 victory against the Chicago Bears following the 2006 season, Clark caught 4 passes for 36 yards. Three years later in a 31-17 loss to New Orleans, Clark was even more impressive statistically with 7 catches for 86 yards.
Runner-up: San Diego Chargers running back Ronnie Harmon was active offensively in his team’s 49-26 loss to San Francisco in 1995. Harmon was the ultimate third-down back in his career and proved it in that game. He ran twice for 10 yards but caught 8 passes for 68 yards.
Defensive Super Bowl MVP
This was close, but Sanders edges a couple of former Minnesota Vikings for the top slot. Sanders was instrumental in slowing down Chicago’s running game in a 29-17 Colts win in 2007. Sanders returned an interception 38 yards midway through the fourth quarter that preserved the victory. Sanders was injured in 2010 and did not play in the Colts’ 31-17 loss to New Orleans.
Co-runners-up: Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Wally Hilgenberg and safety Paul Krause. Both started four Super Bowls — all losses — for the Vikings. Hilgenberg compiled 9 tackles in Super Bowl IV in a 23-7 loss to Kansas City in 1970, then had 8 tackles in each of the defeats to Miami (23-7, 1974) and Pittsburgh (16-6, 1975). In the Vikings’ final Super Bowl appearance, a 32-14 loss to Oakland in 1977, Hilgenberg registered 2 tackles.
Krause, the NFL’s all-time interception leader with 81, picked off a pass and recorded 3 tackles against Kansas City. Krause produced 6 tackles in each of the following three Super Bowl defeats to Miami, Pittsburgh and Oakland.
Special Teams Super Bowl MVP
This is a no-brainer. The best statistical performance by a former Hawkeye in a Super Bowl was Atlanta receiver Tim Dwight in 1999. Late in the Falcons’ 34-19 loss to Denver, Dwight returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown. His 210 kickoff return yards are the second-most for a game in Super Bowl history and the third-most in a career. Dwight’s average of 42.0 yards per kickoff return are the most for any player with more than 4 kickoff returns. He also rushed once for 5 yards in the game.
Runner-up: Miami Dolphins punter Reggie Roby. In a 38-16 loss to San Francisco in 1985, Roby punted 6 times for a 39.3 average and belted a long of 51 yards.
Green Bay Packers cornerback Bob Jeter started and recorded 4 tackles in both Super Bowl I (a 35-10 win against Kansas City) and Super Bowl II (a 33-14 victory against Oakland).
San Francisco 49ers safety Merton Hanks had 2 tackles and 2 pass breakups in a 49-23 victory against San Diego in 1995.
New England Patriots outside linebacker Andre Tippett had 5 tackles and a pass breakup in a 46-10 loss to the Chicago Bears in 1986.
In the days before the Super Bowl, San Diego Chargers receiver Don Norton competed in five AFL championship games. Norton caught 13 passes for 195 yards and a score in those games. His top day was in 1963 during a 51-10 AFL title victory against the Boston Patriots. Norton grabbed 2 passes for 44 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown.