With COVID protocols, it’s a different Super Bowl than any other. It’s also almost unlike any other Super Bowl because there’s the lowest total since the very first game in 1967 for the number of players from California. Injuries have knocked out key players from California for both the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but at least we still have the greatest of all-time Super Bowl players so we’ll spend most of this year’s annual feature on him.
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As many know by now heading into the 2021 Super Bowl to be played this Sunday in Tampa, Florida, it’s an entirely different atmosphere for both teams. The Tampa Bay Bucs have become the first-team ever to play in the game and also host it in their city. Therefore, there’s no need for them to travel and stay in hotels. And with the Coronavirus pandemic still clicking off thousands of deaths every day in the country, the Kansas City Chiefs aren’t even coming to the game until the day before.
COVID protocols put in the place by the NFL, with daily testing, also makes it impossible until the day of the game to completely and accurately compile our annual Super Bowl list of where all of the players in the game went to high school. On Monday, the Chiefs placed two players on its COVID list and it wasn’t known for sure if those two players would be off the list in time for the game. Players could continue to be placed on those lists, which could result in additional players added to a roster from the practice team right up until the day of the game.
With all of that being said, and based on the players who were on the active rosters of both teams as of Tuesday, Feb. 2, the 2021 Super Bowl will go down as one of the two worst games since the very first Super Bowl in 1967 for having the least number of players from California involved.
The defending champion Chiefs had four from the state last year when they topped the San Francisco 49ers for their first Super Bowl title since 1970. Only one of those players, defensive back Daniel Sorensen (Colton), is back. One of the others, tackle Mitchell Schwartz (Pacific Palisades Palisades), is out with an injury. Another of those from last year, running back Damien Williams (San Diego Mira Mesa), opted out of the season due to the pandemic, while another, backup QB Matt Moore (Newhall Hart), is now on the practice squad and is not on the active roster. No others on the Chiefs’ current roster is from California so one player for them is it.
The only other Super Bowl teams since 1967 with just one player have been the Green Bay Packers in the very first Super Bowl (DT Jim Weatherwax of Redlands) and the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2011 (with DT Chris Hoke of Tustin Foothill). In that first Super Bowl, the Chiefs had four from the state while in 2011 the Packers had seven. This year, the Bucs have five so this year’s overall total of six is the second-lowest total ever.
It might be surprising to see some of the states this year with totals equal to California, including Mississippi and Michigan with six each. We’ve compiled this for more than 25 years and we’re pretty sure those are the most from those states ever. All six from Mississippi are from the same team (Chiefs).
Florida has a below average total of nine, but this year that is the most. Despite having quarterback Patrick Mahomes once again leading the Chiefs, Texas has one of its lowest totals ever with just six. Other states with very high totals this year are Georgia (eight), Pennsylvania (eight), Louisiana (six), Ohio (five) and Illinois (five).
California led all states last year with 13 while Florida had 10.
BRADY THE GREAT: EVEN MORE FROM HIS SERRA HIGH YEARS
California — and Serra High of San Mateo in particular — can still gloat about having the greatest Super Bowl player of all-time, quarterback Tom Brady, who has guided Tampa Bay into this year’s game after nine previous trips (with six titles) with the New England Patriots. His skills at age 43 still make him one of the best QBs in the NFL and getting a different team to the Super Bowl has only enhanced his ranking on all-time lists for all sports.
Since we were doing this same work in the 1990s when Brady was coming up at Serra, we get asked all the time how he was as a high school player. The only time we ever saw him throw in person was at the second-ever high school football combine ever held in the spring of 1994 at St. Mary’s College in Moraga. He certainly had the look of being a D1 college prospect and was accurate on all his throws. What we most remember (at the time we were part of the company, Student Sports, that started high school football combines) was how enthusiastic Brady was to learn everything he could on that day. He was a sponge. Former colleague Brentt Eads (now the publisher of the ExtraInningSoftball.com web site) recalls that Brady had come to the event with his dad, Tom Sr., and that Mr. Brady decided to stay until the end (postponing a business trip he was supposed to have started).
The reason we never saw Brady throw in a game at Serra is because, well to be honest, the Padres just weren’t very good in those years. He didn’t have much around him. Brady only played 20 games for the Padres — 10 each as a junior and senior in 1993 and 1994 — and the teams were only 4-6 for both years (no playoffs). As a senior, though, he still had several 300-yard passing games and at one point in that season he was one of the top five passers in the state. It was only after the playoffs when other QBs got to play more games that Brady fell down the list of state passing leaders. And besides in the 1990s, the quarterbacks in general just didn’t pile up the stats in spread offenses like they do now.
Brady clearly as a prospect was not like Aaron Rodgers from Chico or Josh Allen of Firebaugh who got no college offers coming out of high school and had to go to a JC. Brady did (Cal and Michigan were the main suitors) and he was considered a promising MLB Draft prospect in baseball from a school that has been one of the best in California history for baseball players (Barry Bonds, Gregg Jefferies, Jim Fregosi, etc.).
The late, great San Francisco Examiner prep sports editor Merv Harris used to tell us how much he was impressed by Brady. Merv lived not far up the hill from Serra and saw many of Brady’s Saturday afternoon home games. He regarded Brady as one of the best QBs from the Bay Area he had ever seen. Still, it was hard for all of us in the media in those days to shower Brady with too many honors since there were other QBs who were on much better teams that also had good numbers. Team success, now and then, always factors into those selections.
From a high school athletics standpoint, it’s also still accurate to say that Tom would not be the greatest from his own family. His older sister, Maureen, was a dominating softball pitcher at Hillsdale High of San Mateo. From 1988 to 1991, Maureen set a state record at the time with a 111-10 career record that is still among the best ever in the state. In her junior season, she went 32-1 with 10 no-hitters and six perfect games. Maureen’s daughter and Tom’s niece, Maya Brady, also was a big-time softball player, graduating in 2019 from Oaks Christian (Westlake Village) as a finalist for Ms. Softball State Player of the Year.
Brady has been Super Bowl MVP four times, but was not the first from Serra to do that. Former Padre Lynn Swann was the first for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl X. The only other school to have two MVPs would be Lincoln of San Diego with Marcus Allen and Terrell Davis.
If you ever go to a game at Serra, you’ll notice that he and his family have remained connected to their school by their donations. One of Serra’s other NFL alums, all-pro tackle David Bakhtiari of the Green Bay Packers, also has been supportive. That’s why there’s a Bakhtiari Family Press Box that overlooks Brady Family Stadium.
OTHER CALIFORNIA SUPER BOWL ALUMNI 2021
(All players listed in alphabetical order; may not be accurate on day of game due to COVID testing)
LB Deone Bucannon (Vanden, Fairfield)
Deone had a chance to play in the Super Bowl after the 2015 season with the Arizona Cardinals, but they lost in the NFC championship that season to Carolina. The head coach of the Cardinals at that time was Bruce Arians, who picked up Bucannon late in the 2020 season after he was released by the Atlanta Falcons. It was only two weeks ago when Bucannon was elevated off of the Bucs’ practice squad. Bucannon was a college standout at Washington State.
QB Ryan Griffin (Chaminade, West Hills)
He’s the third QB on the Bucs’ depth chart after Tom Brady and Blaine Gabbert, but is on the active roster and not listed on the practice squad. For most teams, the third QB is inactive for game days. Griffin was a solid D1 QB prospect at Chaminade who eventually found success at Tulane University. He had a huge senior year for the Green Wave in 2012 and had 9,026 yards and 56 TDs in his career there. He played in the second half of one game for the Bucs in 2019.
WR/KR Jaydon Mickens (Dorsey, Los Angeles)
The primary kick returner for the Bucs and another receiving weapon for Tom Brady will be the fifth from Dorsey to play in the Super Bowl. The Dons have had 33 players reach the NFL (second-highest total in the state behind Long Beach Poly) but they trail some other schools in the CIF L.A. City Section for Super Bowl alums (Crenshaw with seven and L.A. High with six). The other four from Dorsey who’ve been in the Super Bowl have been Butch Johnson (1978 and 1979 for Dallas), Chris Mims (1995 for San Diego), Keyshawn Johnson (2003 for Tampa Bay) and Chris Matthews (2015 for Seattle).
DB Daniel Sorensen (Colton)
It was another strong season for the former Yellowjacket, who makes plays for the Chiefs’ defense coming in on blitzes of the quarterback or staying back on pass coverage. Sorensen is a player who should inspire younger athletes since he has made it in the NFL after not being drafted. He played in college at BYU after serving two years on a Mormon mission.
Vita Vea (Milpitas)
After suffering what was called a lower leg injury in the fifth game this season, Vea was thought to be lost for the season. But the third-year nose guard from the University of Washington and an all-state player of ours from Milpitas High in the CIF Central Coast Section made a comeback and was in on 33 snaps of the NFC title game vs. Green Bay. His inside pressure coming up the middle could be a big part of the game plan as the Bucs’ defense will try to slow down the Kansas City offense.
Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid
If Kansas City can get the win in this year’s game, Reid would join an elite list of head coaches from California who’ve all won more than one Super Bowl. That list is led by Bill Walsh (Hayward) and Joe Gibbs (Santa Fe Springs Santa Fe) with three. Those with two are Tom Flores (Sanger) and George Seifert (San Francisco Poly). Reid hails from Marshall High of Los Angeles. He was never on the San Francisco 49ers’ staff, but has been a West Coast offense proponent during his entire career. The first team Reid got to the Super Bowl was Philadelphia in 2005, but the Eagles lost 24-21 to New England. In 2021, Reid’s team in Kansas City is going against Tom Brady, the same QB from 2005.
More Fun Facts:
While there’s a top lineman from California for the Chiefs, Mitchell Schwartz, who is off the roster with an injury, Californian Alex Cappa also was removed last week from the Bucs’ roster due to an injury. Cappa, who is from Dublin and has made it to a starting role in the NFL despite from a D2 college background (Humboldt State), went out with an ankle injury just a few weeks ago….
Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is a former all-state running back from Bishop Amat of La Puente and has been spotlighted for all of the recent NFL head coach openings. All of those openings were filled with Bieniemy failing to get any of them. He certainly seems more qualified than some of the coaches who did get hired, but then again staying with the Chiefs could still end up being better for his overall future path instead of joining rebuilding teams (some in difficult situations like the one in Houston)….
California not only had the most players in the Super Bowl in 2020 and 2019, but also for five of six seasons between 2015 and 2020, including 22 in 2015. The state’s all-time highest total of 25 was set in 1995 by the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers and tied in 2008 by the Patriots and New York Giants…..
We’re pretty sure that new President Joe Biden will be rooting for the Bucs. He may not admit it, but one of Tampa Bay’s receivers, Chris Godwin, is from a Biden’s home state of Delaware. There usually isn’t anyone in the game from Delaware and Godwin is the only one this year….
One of Serra’s top baseball players from the 1990s, pitcher Dan Serafini, was a teammate in the major leagues with Pat Mahomes Sr., the father of Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes. Serafini was Class of 1992 at Serra. Tom Brady would have been a freshman when Serafini was a senior, but who knows if they were ever on the same team at Serra. That’s how close Brady comes to being a teammate of someone who also was a teammate of Patrick Mahomes’ dad.