JERSEY CITY, N.J. – They are former kids who played in their backyards and dreamed of scoring the winning touchdown, making the big play on defense and somehow sharing in the spotlight of helping a team win the Super Bowl.
Not all dreamers get to the NFL, and certainly, many who get to football’s highest level don’t get the chance to play in the Super Bowl.
There are at least a dozen who will be participating for the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks in Sunday’s Super Bowl who toiled for at least eight years in the NFL before getting a chance to play for the title.
Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey is the poster child. He waited 15 years. The others include the last XFL player still in the NFL, a couple of Chargers who got close, a Canadian who lost the NFC title in overtime a couple of years ago, and a number who played on very bad teams before finding their way to ones of the cusp of greatness.
Bailey is philosophical about being at his first Super Bowl.
“Things do take time, and I finally got with the right group of guys, as a whole. I played with some great players, but this is definitely the best team I’ve been on,” he said during interviews on Thursday.
Denver defensive end Jeremy Mincey played on a lot of bad teams in Jacksonville and was heading nowhere late in the season when the Jaguars released him in December for missing a meeting. The Broncos picked him up.
“Dude, this is what we play for, man,” said Mincey, who has played six seasons, missed another with a thumb injury, and had another as a practice squad player. “This is why we keep playing. A lot of us go through a lot in this league, especially guys like me and Mike Adams who have been with so many different teams, different situations. It feels good to actually have this opportunity and for things to land in sync.”
Seattle guard Paul McQuistan played with Oakland and Cleveland before coming to Seattle. As much as he wanted to play in the Super Bowl, he never worried whether he would get there. It wasn’t a career breaker.
“This is a team game,” he said. “Getting here is icing on the cake. Every kid dreams of getting there and playing in the big game. It’s an awesome opportunity, but if I didn’t get there it wouldn’t take away from what I’ve done.”
The odds of playing in the Super Bowl aren’t good. The average career length is less than four years and only 106 players out of close to 1,700 make it each year.
Tackle Tony McDaniel played three seasons with Jacksonville and four with Miami before joining Seattle this season.
“In the offseason, when I used to watch playoff games, the Super Bowl was always in the back of my mind,” McDaniel said. “I’m here now and it’s amazing.”