Players with Texas ties will be all over the field Sunday, when the L.A. Rams and Cincinnati Bengals play in Super Bowl LVI.
Richie Whitt, a writer for the Dallas Cowboys page on Sports Illustrated’s website, spoke to Texas Standard about some of the game’s notable names from Texas.
For more, listen to the full interview with Whitt in the audio player above or read the transcript below.
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.
Texas Standard: Who are the players Texans might recognize in this year’s Super Bowl?
Richie Whitt: Texas quarterbacks from high schools in Texas have really dominated the NFL. When we started the playoffs, there were 14 teams, six of them — almost half — had starting quarterbacks that went to Texas high schools. Well, that’s been whittled to one. So the only one we have is Matthew Stafford from the Rams. And of course, he went to Highland Park.
Highland Park won a state title back in 2005, is that right?
That’s right. [Stafford] was born in Florida and lived in Georgia for a while, but moved to Dallas and went to high school in Highland Park. He was drafted and played for the lowly Detroit Lions, which is, you know, going to purgatory of the NFL. Never won a single playoff game before he got traded to the Rams a year ago. And now look at him, he’s in the Super Bowl. So kind of vindication for the local kid who, you know, it wasn’t him all this time; it was the players around him. So good for him.
How much of a surprise is this that he’s playing in his first Super Bowl at this point in his career?
He’s been a polarizing figure because he’s always had the talent and the stats. But again, he plays 12 years in Detroit and never wins a single playoff game. So there were those who said he just can’t win the big game; he just he doesn’t have “it.” He’s just a stats guy. And there were those who were saying, “Look, nobody wins in Detroit. The Lions haven’t been to an NFC Championship game since the ’90s. It’s the Lions, it’s not him.” So it was always kind of a, you know, chicken or the egg debate with him.
And now he’s kind of, I guess, won that debate, and he may win a Super Bowl. You know, he could be the fourth quarterback from a Texas high school to win the Super Bowl since 2010. That’s remarkable. Drew Brees and Nick Foles, both from Austin Westlake, and Patrick Mahomes, won it a couple of years ago, went to high school at Whitehouse down in Tyler. So there always seems like a Texas quarterback flavor in the Super Bowl.
Well, let’s mention someone who’s not a quarterback: there’s Von Miller, an outside linebacker for the Rams, played at DeSoto and then went on to Texas A&M. What is it that’s made him so special throughout his career?
You know, he was one of the top draft picks in the NFL, and he’s been a premier pass rusher his entire career. He was the MVP — most valuable player — of Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos. He’s 32 years old and kind of like Matthew Stafford: a lot of NFL experts said, “You know what? He’s won his Super Bowl. He’s won his MVP, but he’s kind of washed up.”
Well, the Rams said, “You know what? We need just a couple of missing pieces, we think, to get to the Super Bowl.” And they made a big mid-season trade for Von Miller, which raised a lot of eyebrows, saying, “The Rams are giving up too much; he’s on his last legs.” Well, lo and behold, Von Miller has kind of found the fountain of youth here, a little, in the playoffs, and he’s harassing quarterbacks. So again, kind of like Matthew Stafford, he’s kind of vindicated himself and said, I’m not done yet. So two good Texas stories on both sides of the ball there for the Rams.
Yeah, it always seems like Texas has some outsize influence on these big games because we’re always doing these sort of segments about this time of year. Why do you think that is?
Because Texas high school football is far and above number one in the country. Florida is up there, California is up there. But you know, you talk … high school football, immediately, you go to Texas. It’s where the best quarterbacks are from. It’s where the pass-happy offense kind of had a rebirth in the late ’90s and into the 2000s. That’s where all the good quarterbacks come from and the systems.
And if you’re any sort of young, even middle-school, junior-high or high-school quarterback with any sort of talent with aspirations to play in the NFL, you spend your summers at Texas seven-on-seven camps learning how to play quarterback, and it’s just it’s a quarterback farm.
And you know, unfortunately for us, a lot of those guys go to different colleges out of state and then they wind up going to different teams in NFL. So the Cowboys and the Texans are left watching all this great homegrown talent win Super Bowls.
Any prediction for the game?
I think the Rams are going to win. Of course, I’ve been predicting against the Cincinnati Bengals since the start of this thing, and they keep pulling out miraculous wins. But with Matthew Stafford and with Von Miller, they’re playing in their home stadium. I think they’re the better team; they’re at home and I think the Bengals are maybe a year away. So I think the Rams get it. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Von Miller or Matthew Stafford, one of the Texas kids, gets the MVP.