MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — For the first time since Super Bowl XLIX five years ago, five Utah ties will be on the active rosters of the participating teams in the NFL title game.
This year, it’s the San Francisco 49ers matching up against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday (4:30 p.m. MST, TV: FOX) in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Tuning in to see how defenders like Fred Warner (San Francisco) or Daniel Sorensen (Kansas City) will perform is just part of the equation, though, for why Utahns should be watching this year’s Super Bowl.
The real headliner for Utahns this year is Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, the former BYU offensive lineman and grad assistant who’s in his 21st year as an NFL head coach. Reid is searching for his first Super Bowl ring as a head coach. He’s reached the Super Bowl once before, losing with Philadelphia against New England in Super Bowl XXXIX.
“I know how much he puts into this game,” said Kansas City running back LeSean McCoy, who played four seasons for Reid with the Eagles. “He’s meant a lot to me, all the former players and the guys here. We want to do this for Andy.”
Reid has piled up 221 victories — 14 in the postseason — since becoming an NFL head coach in 1999. He’s guided teams in both Philadelphia, where he coached for 14 seasons, and Kansas City to the postseason 15 times, though Reid has lost in the conference championship game five times, including last season.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe shared why he thought Reid has so many people cheering for him in this year’s Super Bowl.
“I think because he’s been in the NFL for a long time. And during that period of time, he has an impeccable reputation as being a great man. That’s why I think it is,” Holmoe said during his annual roundtable discussion Thursday. “Now on top of that, he’s Hall of Fame coach. So when you put those two together, you got a bunch of people pulling for him. There’s many great coaches in the league that might not have as great of a character reputation as Andy. And there’s some really great people in the league that aren’t very good coaches. And he’s the combination of both.”
Utah representation in Super Bowl LIV
Two former BYU football defenders — Warner, a linebacker, and Sorensen, a safety — are likely to have the biggest impact Sunday, as they will both start for their respective teams. This is also the first time since 2009 two former Cougars will face each other in the Super Bowl.
Utah is represented by a pair of rookies in this year’s title game — Mitch Wishnowsky is the 49ers’ starting punter, while Jackson Barton (a Brighton High alum) is playing offensive tackle in Kansas City, though he’s expected to be inactive Sunday.
“It’s basically been a dream start to the NFL,” Wishnowsky said.
Utah State running back Darwin Thompson is a first-year player for the Chiefs and plays mainly on special teams while also serving as the team’s third back, behind veterans Damien Williams and McCoy, though McCoy has played just one snap in the postseason and is likely to be inactive Sunday, according to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
“Fast all over — the D-ends play ball, the linebackers,” Thompson said, describing the 49ers defense. “They’re a really good sideline-to-sideline defense.”
Layton High is also represented: former Lancer wide receiver Marcus Kemp is in his third season with the Chiefs but won’t be playing, as he’s on injured reserve.
Back in Miami, another Cougar hero?
San Francisco is trying to win its sixth championship, which would tie the franchise for the most Super Bowl wins with New England and Pittsburgh. The 49ers are 5-1 in Super Bowl appearances, with their only loss coming the last time they reached the championship back in 2013, when they fell 34-31 to Baltimore.
It’s been 25 years since San Francisco has won a title, but that victory happened in Miami. In Super Bowl XXIX, former BYU quarterback Steve Young threw a Super Bowl-record six touchdown passes to lead the 49ers to a 49-26 blitzing of the San Diego Chargers. Young, that year’s NFL MVP, also earned Super Bowl MVP honors for that effort.
Could Warner follow that example and provide a spark for a San Francisco victory? The second-year middle linebacker led the 49ers with 118 tackles this season and scored his first pro touchdown on a 46-yard pick-six.
He also relays the play calls from San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to the rest of a defense that includes playmakers like pass rushers Nick Bosa and DeForest Buckner, linebacker Kwon Alexander and defensive back Richard Sherman.
“I have a great group of guys around me that make my job pretty easy. I’m just going to continue to work, and when I step between the white lines on game day, I just make sure I have the right mindset that we’re the best in the world,” Warner said.
Warner and Sorensen will face different offensive philosophies in Sunday’s game.
The Chiefs employ a strong passing offense led by dynamic third-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes and includes tight end Travis Kelce, a matchup nightmare, and speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Kansas City’s run game is complementary to the pass and is led by Williams, who’s rushed for 92 yards and three touchdowns in the postseason.
“Patrick Mahomes is one of the best in the game playing at the quarterback position. He has very explosive weapons around him, guys like Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, the list goes on. And Andy Reid’s at the helm. It will be a good challenge for us and I’m looking forward to it,” Warner said.
The 49ers are more run-based offensively, with running back Raheem Mostert coming off a 220-yard, four-touchdown effort on the ground in the NFC championship game. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo leads the San Francisco offense and has receivers like Emmanuel Sanders and tight end Greg Kittle, another matchup nightmare.
“They’ve got a good running game and a complementary play-action pass game. It’s going to come down to trying to stop the run and being effective when he does pass,” Sorensen said.
On the coaching front, Reid faces a third-year head man in Kyle Shanahan, who’s headed to his first Super Bowl as a head coach. His father, Mike Shanahan, won two Super Bowls as Denver’s head coach in the 1990s.
Also, 49ers offensive assistant coach Katie Sowers will be the first female to coach in a Super Bowl. For the Chiefs, former Ute Alex Whittingham, the son of Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, is a defensive quality control coach.
With the hype surrounding the most watched event in America each year, there are plenty of celebrities cheering for either side come Super Bowl time. For the Chiefs, guys like Paul Rudd, Rob Riggle, Jason Sudeikis, Brad Pitt and Melissa Etheridge don the Kansas City red. On the 49ers’ side are faithful like Nancy Pelosi, Jeremy Renner, Danny Glover, Andy Samberg and Andre Iguodala.
Following Kansas City’s win over Tennessee in the AFC championship game, Sorensen’s older brother, Cody Sorensen, was in a video with Rudd that was shared on social media.
“I’ve met him a couple of times,” Daniel Sorensen said of Rudd. “A lot of those guys are at a lot of the Kansas City games. They’re very supportive, they come around and we love having them.”
Locals in Super Bowl LIV
San Francisco 49ers
- Fred Warner, MLB, BYU
- Mitch Wishnowsky, P, Utah
Kansas City Chiefs
- Jackson Barton, OT, Utah and Brighton High
- Marcus Kemp, WR, Layton High (on injured reserve)
- Andy Reid, head coach, BYU
- Daniel Sorensen, S, BYU
- Darwin Thompson, RB, Utah State
- Alex Whittingham, defensive quality control coach, Utah and Brighton High
Super Bowl LIV
Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Francisco 49ers
Date: Sunday, Feb. 2
Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. MST
Venue: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida