SALT LAKE CITY — In the business of lemons-to-lemonade, it would be hard to ignore the story of former Ute Eric Rowe. Three years into his professional career, the Patriots cornerback will be playing Sunday in his second consecutive Super Bowl. Some serious credibility comes with that. That’s two more than Warren Moon, Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders and O.J. Simpson played in.
Rowe was shocked to find himself traded, just before his second season, from Philadelphia to New England. But he is nothing if not confident.
“He doesn’t care what others think,” says Ute defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley.
In 2015, Rowe ran a 4.45 at the NFL Combine, then turned to the TV cameras and flashed the “U” hand sign. Even at that early date, he appeared sure he would stick in the show.
If he were going to doubt himself, the first crack should have appeared during his rookie season when he was schooled by Detroit’s Calvin “Megatron” Johnson. Johnson had four catches against him, two for touchdowns, in a Thanksgiving Day game. Yet Rowe now has one ring to show for his trouble, Johnson none.
Rowe is a topic of considerable interest in this year’s Super Bowl, largely because he was drafted in the second round by the Eagles, but traded before the start of the 2016 season. Sunday marks a chance to respond in a high-profile way. Rowe actually hasn’t worn out the subject, even though he keeps getting asked about it.
“No hard feelings,” Rowe told reporters after New England clinched another Super Bowl trip two weeks ago. “That’s just how the business goes. … After the initial shock, I was like, ‘OK, I need to take advantage of this opportunity, because you don’t get a lot of opportunities to play for the Patriots.’”
And you don’t get a lot of opportunities to play in the Super Bowl unless you are the Patriots.
This kind of flexibility is why Rowe is in the NFL in the first place. He played three seasons at Utah as a safety, but gladly switched to cornerback for his senior year. That advanced his chances for a pro career, and was verified when he was drafted No. 47.
In the fall of 2011, the Utes got a gist of Rowe’s competitiveness.
“He was a true freshman, and we threw him in with the ones (starters) and he hit somebody coming across the middle with so much fire,” says Ute defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley. “We’re thinking, ‘Holy cow! He’s been here a day and he’s showing that kind of aggression and confidence. …”
At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Rowe is fast and physical enough to thrive at the NFL level. He hit the pros like he hits receivers, totaling 30 tackles, an interception and five passes defended as a rookie. Then injuries interfered. In 2016, after being traded, he started seven regular season games and played in nine, but hamstring and ankle setbacks slowed his progress. Still, he appeared in all three playoff games and received a Super Bowl ring for his trouble. In last year’s AFC Championship game, he burgled a Ben Roethlisberger pass for a 37-yard return.
This year, he sustained a groin injury that limited him to 14 tackles and two passes defended in eight regular season games. He has nine playoff tackles this year.
When traded by Philadelphia, the Eagles told Rowe he didn’t “fit the system,” which often employs man-to-man coverage. That’s like telling a carpenter he’s good, except for the part where he can’t drive a nail.
Thus on Sunday, he’ll get a shot at making the Eagles reconsider their hasty trade.
“They said I couldn’t play, man,” Rowe told reporters.
That’s news to him.
Rowe is part of a booming and blooming group of defensive backs from the Utah program. Eight ex-Ute DBs were on NFL rosters this year. With recruiting wrapping up next week, the Ute coaching staff isn’t above pointing that out.
The Utes have had at least one player, at some position, in the last six Super Bowls.
“Numbers don’t lie,” says Ute cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah. “All we do is put kids in the (NFL) league. With Whit (Kyle Whittingham), you develop and coach them to get ready to play at a very high level. And you do it over and over again.”