Super Bowl participants had football, baseball glory days in NC

The Chiefs and Buccaneers both have several connections to the state

High Point native and Chiefs defensive end Tim Ward missed last year’s Super Bowl due to a torn ACL. (Reed Hoffmann / AP Photo)

Long before he became the heir apparent to Tom Brady as the NFL’s top big-game quarterback, Patrick Mahomes took the mound at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

On July 24, 2012, the Bulls relinquished their home field, allowing Cary’s USA Baseball to hold its Breakthrough Series, which featured many of the top college baseball prospects in the nation. Mahomes, then best known as the son of former Twins reliever Pat Mahomes, was selected to participate.

In the third inning, Mahomes, a two-sport athlete in his sophomore year at Texas Tech, came in as a relief pitcher. He turned in two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and a pair of walks while striking out two batters.

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in Super Bowl 55, Mahomes will be one of several members of both teams with career paths that ran through North Carolina.

One of the players tasked with protecting Mahomes may not be available for the game. Daniel Kilgore, a 10th-year pro out of Appalachian State, played in seven games for the Chiefs this year, starting four at center. He was placed on the team’s COVID list earlier this week.

He was placed on the list due to possible exposure, not a positive test, and, as long as he continues to test negative, he should be available for the game, which would be his second trip to the big game. He was a member of San Francisco when the Niners made the Super Bowl following the 2012 season.

The Chiefs line also includes a former Panther. Mike Remmers played 13 games at tackle this season, starting 10. He’s best known to Panthers fans as a two-year starter in 2015 and 2016, spending equal time at both tackle spots.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Chiefs’ roster includes end Tim Ward, who played for High Point Central in high school. He joined Kansas City as an undrafted free agent last year but missed the Super Bowl due to a torn ACL. He spent much of this season on the practice squad before joining the active roster late in the season.

Kicker Harrison Butker was drafted by the Panthers in 2017 but lost a training camp battle with Graham Gano. The Chiefs signed him off the Carolina practice squad.

The Bucs have five players with North Carolina connections on the active roster.

The team’s leading punt and kick returner, Jaydon Mickens, was a victim of final cuts before the 2019 season after spending the preseason with the Panthers. He’s bounced between the practice squad and active roster for Tampa this year, returning 16 punts for 99 yards and 14 kicks for 340 yards.

Tampa Bay’s special teams depend heavily on the state. Kicker Ryan Succop grew up in Hickory before leaving for college in South Carolina. He started his NFL career with the Chiefs. This year, his 12th in the league, is his first with the Bucs.

Punter Bradley Pinion was born in Concord and played for Northwest Cabarrus High in Kannapolis before heading to Clemson.

Tampa’s secondary includes a pair of players who played their college ball in North Carolina.

Ross Cockrell went to Duke after playing at Charlotte Latin, earning All-ACC honors in 2012 and 2013 with the Blue Devils. He spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons with the Panthers and has played in 12 games, starting two, with the Bucs this year.

Cornerback Ryan Smith was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2016 out of NC Central. He played in all 16 games as a reserve this season.

Off the field, both teams are also loaded with local connections.

The Chiefs’ secondary coach is former NC State star David Merritt, who played at Millbrook High before spending the early ’90s on Dick Sheridan’s Wolfpack teams.

Also on the KC coaching staff is offensive line coach Andy Heck, whose sons Jon and Charlie played on UNC’s offensive line.

Three former Panthers are on the Chiefs practice squad: Tight end Evan Baylis, a 2017 practice squad player and 2018 training camp cut; quarterback Matt Moore, who started 13 games for the Panthers from 2007 to 2010; and offensive lineman Bryan Witzmann, a Panther for a little more than a month in 2019.

Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht was a Panthers scout in 1998.

Linebackers coach Mike Caldwell was a 2003 Panther. Quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen threw passes for UNC in 1977 and 1978 and also spent three years at ECU as offensive coordinator, quarterbacks and running backs coach.

Bucs offensive consultant Tom Moore was Wake Forest’s offensive coordinator way back in 1969.

Former Panthers running back Kenjon Barner is on the Bucs injured reserve, along with former Tar Heel running back TJ Logan.

On the Tampa practice squad, kicker Greg Joseph spent a month on the Panthers’ practice squad in 2019. Punter Matt Wile was a Panthers undrafted free agent and training camp cut in 2015. Guard Ted Larsen was a standout at NC State.