If you’re not a fan of either the San Francisco 49ers or the Kansas City Chiefs and are looking for a rooting interest to help enhance your enjoyment of Sunday’s Super Bowl in Miami, here’s a hint.
Only one of the teams has anyone with ties to the Old North State on its roster.
The NFC champion San Francisco 49ers feature five players with local connections, including two each from NC State and Duke.
Here’s a look at who they are and how much of a chance, if any, they have to make an impact on their team’s quest for the Vince Lombardi Trophy:
Laken Tomlinson: A 6-foot-3, 315-pound Duke graduate, Tomlinson is the 49ers’ starting left guard and part of an offensive line that helped its team gouge out 285 yards on the ground against the Green Bay Packers two weeks ago. It was the second-most rushing yards in a postseason game in team history and the most by any team in a conference championship game since 1970.
A fifth-year player originally drafted by the Detroit Lions who has amassed 71 NFL starts, he was acquired by San Francisco in 2017 and immediately became a fixture on its offensive line. In 2018, Tomlinson was selected as the winner of the 49ers’ Bobb McKittrick Award, presented annually to the team’s offensive lineman that best represents the courage, intensity and sacrifice displayed by the longtime offensive line coach during his 21 years of service to the 49ers.
Daniel Helm: A rookie tight end from Duke, Helm originally signed with the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent last summer before being waived at the end of training camp. The 24-year-old was claimed by the 49ers and spent most of the season on their practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster on Dec. 12 but has yet to see action through three regular season games and two playoff wins.
A 6-4, 225-pound Illinois native, Helm started his college career at Tennessee before transferring to Duke for his final three seasons. He caught 69 passes for 767 yards and three touchdowns as a member of the Blue Devils while earning third-team All-ACC honors as a senior.
Dontae Johnson: The cornerback from NC State has had an eventful season, although not always on the field. Like Helm, he started 2019 with the Chargers but was released after just two games. He was picked up by the 49ers on Oct. 3 only to be let go again on Nov. 11. Exactly one month later, though, Johnson re-signed with the 49ers and saw action in two games to finish the regular season. He has been inactive for both playoff games thus far.
For the season, the 6-0, 200-pound sixth-year man has been credited with two defensive tackles and three special teams stops. In 73 career NFL games (22 starts), mostly with the 49ers, Johnson has been credited with 151 tackles and two interceptions — both of which he returned for touchdowns.
Kentavius Street: A fourth-round pick in the 2018 draft, Street missed his entire rookie season after suffering a knee injury that required surgery in a predraft workout for the New York Giants. He appeared to be fully recovered during the 2019 preseason when he recorded five tackles and 1.5 sacks in a preseason game against the Denver Broncos on Aug. 19. But a recurrence of the knee problem required an arthroscopic procedure and forced him back onto the injured reserve list.
The defensive end from NC State was finally healthy enough to be activated on Dec. 14 and made his NFL debut in a game against the Atlanta Falcons that Sunday. But after playing in the final four regular season games — making four tackles — the 6-2, 287-pound native of Greenville suffered another setback with his knee and returned to the IR.
Ronald Blair: A valuable member of the 49ers’ defense, the defensive tackle from Appalachian State played in nine games this season, making 21 tackles to go along with three sacks and his first career fumble recovery. One of those sacks, on Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on Nov. 11, proved to be a costly one. He tore an ACL on the play and spent the rest of the season on injured reserve.
Now in his fourth season with the 49ers, Blair has played in 46 NFL games with 88 tackles and 13.5 sacks.
If you can’t bring yourself to pull for either team, there’s at least one other rooting interest you might consider. Umpire Barry Anderson, one of a record five minority members of the Super Bowl officiating crew, is a graduate of NC State.