By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
When the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos kickoff the Super Bowl this Sunday in New Jersey, former Clemson defensive back Byron Maxwell will be experiencing something most who play this game only dream about – he will be playing in a Super Bowl.
But Maxwell will not just be playing in Super Bowl XLVIII he will be starting in it. He is the first Clemson player to start in a Super Bowl since Chris Gardocki was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting punter in Super Bowl XLV eight years ago.
Maxwell started the final seven games of the season for the Seahawks after corner Brandon Browner was injured and then suspended indefinitely by the NFL for violating its substance-abuse policy. The former Clemson cornerback starts opposite All-Pro Richard Sherman, who is considered the NFL’s best cornerback and the leader of what NFL fans and media call “The Legion of Boom.”
If Maxwell and the rest of the secondary can lower the boom on Denver’s wide receivers on Sunday, then Maxwell will find himself in elite company when it comes to former Clemson players who played a significant role in their team winning a Super Bowl.
In all, 23 former Clemson players have won at least one Super Bowl ring through the years. Below is a list of former Tigers that played a big role in their NFL teams winning those Super Bowls.
Super Bowl III: Bill Mathis, who played for Clemson from 1957-’59, played running back for the New York Jets in Super Bowl III. He is the first Clemson player to play in a Super Bowl. He caught two passes in Miami’s Orange Bowl on this day, including a 13-yard pass on the Jets’ first scoring drive. The Jets beat the Baltimore Colts, 16-7, on January 12, 1969, in what is still known as the biggest upset in professional football history. That was the year before the NFL-AFL merger.
Super Bowl VI and Super Bowl XII: Charlie Waters played at Clemson from 1967-’69. At Clemson he played wide receiver, but in the NFL the Dallas Cowboys drafted him to play defense where he moved to safety and played his entire 11-year career there. Waters played in five Super Bowls with the Cowboys—more than any other former Clemson player. He started in all five Super Bowls and helped lead the Cowboys to wins over Miami in Super Bowl VI and Denver in Super Bowl XII. The Cowboys defense was known as “The Dooms Day Defense” back in those days.
Super Bowl IX: John McMakin did not start Super Bowl IX for the Pittsburgh Steelers but the reserve tight end played a big role on why running back Franco Harris set a then Super Bowl record 158 yards and a touchdown in the Steelers’ 16-6 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on January 12, 1975. McMakin played at Clemson from 1969-’71.
Super Bowl XIV: Bennie Cunningham followed McMakin at Clemson in 1972 and became an All-American tight end there in 1974 and 1975. He then followed behind McMakin in Pittsburgh where the Steelers drafted him with the 28th pick in the first round of the 1976 NFL Draft. In 1978 Cunningham was on his way to an All-Pro season when a knee injury in Week 6 ended his year. He bounced back in 1979 and helped the Steelers get back to the Super Bowl after he caught 36 passes for 512 yards and four touchdowns. In Super Bowl XIV against the Los Angeles Rams he caught two passes for 21 yards, including a 13-yard pass from Terry Bradshaw that set up Franco Harris’ first of two touchdowns a few players later. Cunningham had the key block that sprung Harris into the end zone—the Steelers’ first in a 31-19 victory.
Super Bowl XVI and Super XIX: Dwight Clark had only 45 receiving yards on four catches in Super Bowl XVI, but it was the catch that he made in the NFC Championship game a couple of weeks before is where his major contribution came into play. The play is simply known as “The Catch” in the NFL as he reached up and pulled Joe Montana’s aerial out of the sky on a play where Montana was trying to throw the ball out of bounds. The Catch was the winning touchdown in San Francisco’s 28-27 win over the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers beat Cincinnati in Super Bowl XVI and three years later he helped them win a second Super Bowl with a six-catch, 77-yard performance in Super Bowl XIX’s 38-16 win over Miami. Clark played at Clemson from 1975-’78 and was a part of Clemson’s ACC Championship season in 1978. Ironically, he was also a part of the greatest game in the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry in 1977, when wide receiver Jerry Butler made a leaping twisting catch that is known in Clemson lore as “The Catch.” Former Clemson defensive tackle Jim Stuckey (1976-’79) was also a member of those two 49er teams. Stuckey was a reserve defensive tackle in both games as he helped San Francisco with a goal line stand in Super Bowl’s XVI’s win over the Bengals.
Super Bowl XVII, Super Bowl XXII and Super Bowl XXVI: Jeff Bostic was the starting center for the Washington Redskins in all three Super Bowls. He also was the leader on the offensive line that was known as “The Hawgs” because of the down and dirty way they went about their business in blocking for running backs like John Riggins, George Rogers and Timmy Smith. They got their nickname during the 1982 run to Super Bowl XVII when they helped Riggins pop a 43-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-one early in the fourth quarter that gave them a 20-17 lead at the time. Washington went on to beat Miami 27-17 that afternoon. Riggins rushed for a then Super Bowl record 166 yards. A few years later, Bostic, who played at Clemson from 1976-’79, helped Smith run for what is still a Super Bowl record 202 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-10 win over Denver in Super Bowl XXII. Bostic became the first and only former Tigers to win three Super Bowls when the Redskins beat Buffalo, 37-24, in Super Bowl XXVI.
Super Bowl XX: William “The Refrigerator” Perry became one of the biggest characters in the history of the NFL when the head coach Mike Ditka of the Chicago Bears decided to use Perry, a reserve rookie defensive tackle at the time, as a fullback on a Monday night in Chicago against Green Bay in 1985. Perry scored a touchdown that night and a legend was born. He later caught a touchdown pass at Green Bay. Perry, who helped the Bears beat New England in Super Bowl XX, also became famous for his one-yard touchdown in the 46-10 Super Bowl victory. Perry played at Clemson from 1981-’84 and helped the Tigers win a national championship as a freshman in 1981.
Super Bowl XXXI: Wayne Simmons, who played at Clemson from 1989-’92, started at defensive end for the Green Bay Packers in 1996—opposite Reggie White—and helped lead the Packers to a victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI. Simmons is best remembered by Clemson fans for his 73-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Tigers’ 34-23 win at Florida State in 1989. He was also part of a Clemson defense that led the nation in total defense in 1990. Simmons was part of Packers defense in 1996 that was one of the NFL’s best in scoring and total defense. He started all 19 games in 1996 and had 2.5 sacks. Simmons tragically died in a car accident on Aug. 23, 2002 in Kansas City, Mo.
Super Bowl XXXII and Super Bowl XXIII: Trevor Pryce is the last former Clemson player to win multiple Super Bowls in his career. He did it with the Denver Broncos as a defensive tackle in 1997 and 1998, his first two years in the NFL. Pryce is the only Clemson player to win back-to-back Super Bowls as a starter in the NFL’s biggest game. Pryce played a big part in the Broncos’ victory over Atlanta in Super Bowl XXXIII in 1998. Pryce played at Clemson in 1996.
Super Bowl XXXIV: Dexter McCleon, who played quarterback and cornerback for the Tigers from 1993-’96, was the starting cornerback for the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV. McCleon started all night 19 games for St. Louis and had four interceptions that season. The Rams were known for their offense that year—The Greatest Show on Turf—but it was the defense that won Super Bowl XXXIV as they stopped the Titans at the one-yard line on the last play of the game. Former Clemson wide receiver Tony Horne was also a member of that Rams team. He was a kick and punt return specialist on that squad.
Super Bowl XXXV: James Trapp, who played at Clemson from1989-’92, was a reserve defensive back for the Baltimore Ravens in 2000. That Ravens defense is considered one of the best in the history of the NFL. After leading the league in total, rushing, passing and scoring defense in 2000, the Ravens allowed only 23 points in four playoff games, including just seven in Super Bowl XXXV. The Ravens’ defense actually would have pitched a shutout in the 34-7 victory over the New York Giants because the Giants lone score came on a kickoff return.
Super Bowl XL: Chris Gardocki is the only punter in the history of the NFL to go his entire career and not have a punt blocked. Ironically, the only punt he ever had blocked in college or pro football came in his last game as a Clemson Tiger. South Carolina blocked one of his punts in the 24-15 Clemson victory and returned it for a touchdown. Gardocki played in the NFL for 16 years, but he did not win a Super Bowl until year 15 with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The former Tiger, who played at Clemson from1988-’90, played a big role in the Steelers’ 21-10 victory over Seattle. In a game that was a defensive struggle, field position was a key and Gardocki averaged 48.7 yards on six punts with a net of 40.8 yards. His longest punt covered 60 yards and one of his six punts was downed inside the 20-yard line.
Super Bowl XLIII: Nick Eason was a reserve defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their run to winning Super Bowl XLIII over the Arizona Cardinals. Eason played a big role on a Steelers defense that led the NFL in scoring, total, rushing and pass defense in 2008. Eason played in 18 games that year and was a member of a Pittsburgh team that became the first franchise to win six Super Bowls. Eason played at Clemson from 1999-’02.