Six Hawkeye players will have a strong rooting interest in the outcome of Super Bowl LIII between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams Sunday in Atlanta. Four Hawkeye players are with the New England organization – James Ferentz, Adrian Clayborn, Cole Croston, and Riley McCarron – while Austin Blythe and Henry Krieger-Coble are with the Los Angeles Rams.
Blythe is expected to start for the Rams in Super Bowl LIII, while Clayborn and Ferentz are on the Patriots’ active roster and could see action in this year’s Super Bowl. Croston and McCarron played for New England this season but are expected to be inactive for Sunday’s game, while Krieger-Coble will be inactive for the Rams after having spent the entire season on their practice squad.
Still, six Hawkeye players have ties to Super Bowl LIII, and that’s the most Hawkeye connections we have seen in a single Super Bowl in the 53-year history of the NFL’s biggest game. And no matter which team wins, it looks like multiple Hawkeyes will be leaving Atlanta with a claim to a Super Bowl ring…and that’s something all Hawkeyes can get excited about.
Super Bowl week always brings up a lot of questions about Super Bowl Hawkeyes. How many Hawkeyes have a Super Bowl ring? How many Hawkeyes have played in the Super Bowl? How many Hawkeyes have started in the Super Bowl for the winning team? Some of those questions are pretty hard to answer, but after a fair amount of research, I think I’ve come up with a few answers.
So kick back, relax, and enjoy reading about the exploits of these Super Bowl Hawkeyes!
How Many Hawkeyes Have Started in the Super Bowl?
This is probably the easiest question to tackle regarding Super Bowl Hawkeyes, because starting lineups for Super Bowl teams are fairly well known and publicized.
Seventeen Hawkeyes have started for their teams in the Super Bowl (Austin Blythe with the Los Angeles Rams could be #18 on Sunday). Here they are, with Super Bowl champions listed in bold:
Bob Jeter, Green Bay Packers – Super Bowls I & II
Curt Merz, Kansas City Chiefs – Super Bowl I
Paul Krause, Minnesota Vikings – Super Bowls IV, VIII, IX, & XI
Wally Hilgenberg, Minnesota Vikings – Super Bowls IV, VIII, IX, & XI
John Niland, Dallas Cowboys – Super Bowls V & VI
Paul Laaveg, Washington Redskins – Super Bowl VII
Reggie Roby, Miami Dolphins – Super Bowl XIX
Jay Hilgenberg, Chicago Bears – Super Bowl XX
Mark Bortz, Chicago Bears – Super Bowl XX
Andre Tippett, New England Patriots – Super Bowl XX
Merton Hanks, San Francisco 49ers – Super Bowl XXIX
Ross Verba, Green Bay Packers – Super Bowl XXXII
Tim Dwight, Atlanta Falcons – Super Bowl XXXIII
Bob Sanders, Indianapolis Colts – Super Bowl XLI
Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts – Super Bowls XLI & XLIV
Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay Packers – Super Bowl XLV
Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens – Super Bowl XLVII
It should be noted that while Niland and Clark both started in two Super Bowls, their teams each only won one. Niland’s Cowboys lost to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V before defeating the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI, while Clark’s Colts won Super Bowl XLI over the Chicago Bears before falling in Super Bowl XLIV to the New Orleans Saints. The only Hawkeye player to start and win multiple Super Bowls was Bob Jeter, who started for Lombardi’s Packers in Super Bowls I and II.
How Many Hawkeyes Have Played in the Super Bowl?
This is not as easy a question to answer as it may seem. A seldom-used Hawkeye on a Super Bowl roster could easily sneak into the game for a few plays on special teams, record no official stats, yet still deserve to be recognized as playing in the Super Bowl.
With that disclaimer added, according to my research, 32 Hawkeyes have thus far played in the Super Bowl (Blythe, Clayborn, and J. Ferentz could join this list on Sunday). As mentioned above, 17 of these Hawkeyes started for their respective teams in the big game, so 15 Hawkeyes have played in the Super Bowl in a reserve capacity.
Here then are the 15 Hawkeyes who have played in the Super Bowl as reserves, again with Super Bowl champions listed in bold:
Ed Podolak, Kansas City Chiefs – Super Bowl IV
Karl Noonan, Miami Dolphins – Super Bowl VI
Jim Jensen, Denver Broncos – Super Bowl XII
John Harty, San Francisco 49ers – Super Bowl XVI
Bruce Klosterman, Denver Broncos – Super Bowls XXII & XXIV
Bob Kratch, New York Giants/New England Patriots – Super Bowls XXV & XXXI
Mike Devlin, Buffalo Bills – Super Bowl XXV
Ronnie Harmon, San Diego Chargers – Super Bowl XXIX
Jonathan Hayes, Pittsburgh Steelers – Super Bowl XXX
Bruce Nelson, Carolina Panthers – Super Bowl XXXVIII
Kenny Iwebema, Arizona Cardinals – Super Bowl XLIII
Tyler Sash, New York Giants – Super Bowl XLVI
Sean Considine, Baltimore Ravens – Super Bowl XLVII
Tony Moeaki, Seattle Seahawks – Super Bowl XLIX
Jonathan Babineaux, Atlanta Falcons – Super Bowl LI
Again, it should be noted that while Bob Kratch played in two Super Bowls, his teams only won one; the Giants defeated the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV, but the Patriots lost Super Bowl XXXI to the Green Bay Packers. Also of note is that Kratch is the only Hawkeye to play in two Super Bowls for two different teams.
The one name on there that even hardcore Hawk fans may not recognize is Bruce Klosterman. Klosterman attended Waldorf College, a junior college in northern Iowa. After two years there, he walked on to the Iowa football team as a junior but very quickly realized that he was unhappy in Iowa City. Klosterman then transferred to South Dakota State, where he played two seasons of college football before heading to the NFL. As you can see, he eventually played in two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos.
Bruce Klosterman is the only player on this list who didn’t earn a letter playing football for Iowa, which revives the old debate over who does or doesn’t count as being a “former Hawkeye”. As usual, I tend to err on the side of including people in this little Hawkeye family of ours. Even though he didn’t take to Iowa City, I’ll still celebrate him as a former Hawkeye.
That makes for a total of 32 Hawkeyes that have played in the Super Bowl so far. 14 Hawkeyes have played in a winning cause, with nine of those 14 starting for the winning team.
The Hawkeye Super Bowl DNP Club
A number of Hawkeyes were a member of Super Bowl teams, even though they didn’t play in the actual game. These players can be hard to track as well, particularly for the early years of the Super Bowl.
Let’s start by mentioning a dozen Hawkeyes who played for a team during their Super Bowl season but, for one reason or another, did not play in the Super Bowl itself. Super Bowl champions here are denoted by an asterisk:
Mike Reilly, Minnesota Vikings, 1969 – Reilly played ten games for the Vikings in 1969, but he was inactive for Super Bowl IV.
Thomas Smith, Miami Dolphins, 1973* – Tom Smith lettered for the Hawkeyes in 1969 before transferring in the spring of 1970 to the University of Miami. Smith joined Larry Lawrence and transferred from Iowa to Miami at the height of the public feud between Forest Evashevski and Ray Nagel. Smith finished his college career with the Hurricanes and later played a grand total of two career games in the NFL…both with the 1973 Miami Dolphins, who went on to win Super Bowl VIII.
Al Randolph, Minnesota Vikings, 1973 – Randolph played 11 games in 1973 with the Vikings, who made Super Bowl VIII. But unlike fellow Hawkeyes Paul Krause and Wally Hilgenberg, I don’t believe Randolph actually played in that Super Bowl.
Matt Bowen, St. Louis Rams, 2001 – Bowen broke his right foot in the Rams’ season opener, and he was waived by the organization several weeks later. Bowen promptly signed with Green Bay and played in the Packers’ final five games of the season; his Rams, meanwhile, advanced to Super Bowl XXXVI.
Kevin Kasper, New England Patriots, 2004* – Kasper played eight games with the Patriots in 2004, recording no statistics. He was then put on the inactive list for the rest of the season, including the playoffs, when the team won Super Bowl XXXIX.
Bob Sanders, Indianapolis Colts, 2009 – Sanders was a key factor in the Colts’ victory in Super Bowl XLI. However, in 2009, he only played in two games for the Colts before suffering a torn bicep that sidelined him for the season, including Super Bowl XLIV.
Jeff Tarpinian, New England Patriots, 2011 – Tarpinian played seven games with the Patriots in 2011 before being sidelined for the season with a head injury. The Patriots advanced to Super Bowl XLVI.
James Ferentz, Denver Broncos, 2015* – Ferentz was a reserve offensive lineman for the Broncos in 2015, playing in 14 regular season games and even seeing action in Denver’s AFC championship game win over the Patriots. But he did not appear in the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
Colin Cole, Carolina Panthers, 2015 – Cole played ten years in the NFL, but his pro career came to an end when the Panthers cut him two games into his 2015 season; the Panthers later advanced to Super Bowl 50.
Brandon Wegher, Carolina Panthers, 2015 – Wegher had a terrific freshman season for the Hawkeyes in 2009 but then dropped out of the program for undisclosed reasons. After three years out of football, Wegher resumed his career at tiny Morningside College. His NFL career lasted all of one game in 2015 with the Panthers, who went on to the Super Bowl.
Adrian Clayborn, Atlanta Falcons, 2016 – Clayborn had a terrific 2016 season with the Falcons, appearing in 14 games and starting seven of them. But he tore his bicep in a playoff game victory against the Seattle Seahawks and was sidelined for the year, while the Falcons went on to play in Super Bowl LI.
Cole Croston, New England Patriots, 2017 – Croston is a great underdog story. A walk-on at Iowa, he worked his way into honorable mention All-Big Ten honors as a senior. Undrafted in the NFL, he worked his way onto the Patriots roster and played four games for them in 2017, including an NFC championship game victory over the Jaguars to advance to Super Bowl LII.
That’s 12 Hawkeyes who played for a Super Bowl team at some point during the season but who did not play in the actual game. This number includes Thomas Smith and Brandon Wegher, Iowa transfers who some may not consider Hawkeyes because they didn’t finish their careers at Iowa. As with Bruce Klosterman, I certainly count them.
The Hawkeye Super Bowl Inactives
Finally, there are a handful of Hawkeyes who are credited with being a part of a team’s Super Bowl season but who never actually played a game with that team that season. As you can imagine, no universal record has been kept of such players.
Here, however, are five Hawkeye players who were part of Super Bowl squads despite not playing with them those years:
Melvin Foster, Dallas Cowboys, 1992* – Foster sat out the Cowboys’ Super Bowl season with a knee injury he suffered in college at Iowa.
Matt Rodgers, Buffalo Bills, 1992 – Rodgers was on the Bills’ practice squad for their entire Super Bowl season.
Erik Jensen, Pittsburgh Steelers, 2005* – Jensen was on the Steelers’ practice squad for their entire Super Bowl season.
C.J. Jones, New England Patriots, 2007 – Jones was on the Patriots’ practice squad for their entire Super Bowl season.
Riley McCarron, New England Patriots, 2017 – McCarron was on the Patriots’ practice squad for their entire Super Bowl season.
In the cases of Foster, Rodgers, Jensen, and Jones, these players never played a game in the NFL their entire careers! Yet they were contributors in a practice role for their teams’ Super Bowl seasons.
Hawkeyes with Super Bowl Rings
All of this discussion brings us to the most frequently asked question about Super Bowl Hawkeyes…how many Hawkeyes have a Super Bowl ring?
This is a difficult question to answer, because there’s no set standard for who does or doesn’t receive a Super Bowl ring. For instance, in the case of practice squad players, they usually get rings if their team wins the Super Bowl, but it’s completely at the discretion of the organization. Because of this, there’s no way to be sure that any answer includes absolutely everyone.
However, I believe that 19 Hawkeye players to date have earned Super Bowl rings. They are:
Bob Jeter, Green Bay Packers, Super Bowls I & II – starter
Ed Podolak, Kansas City Chiefs, Super Bowl IV – reserve
John Niland, Dallas Cowboys, Super Bowl VI – starter
Thomas Smith, Miami Dolphins, Super Bowl VIII – DNP
John Harty, San Francisco 49ers, Super Bowl XVI – reserve
Jay Hilgenberg, Chicago Bears, Super Bowl XX – starter
Mark Bortz, Chicago Bears, Super Bowl XX – starter
Bob Kratch, New York Giants, Super Bowl XXV – reserve
Melvin Foster, Dallas Cowboys, Super Bowl XXVII – DNP
Merton Hanks, San Francisco 49ers, Super Bowl XXIX – starter
Kevin Kasper, New England Patriots, Super Bowl XXXIX – DNP
Erik Jensen, Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Bowl XL – DNP
Bob Sanders, Indianapolis Colts, Super Bowl XLI – starter
Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts, Super Bowl XLI – starter
Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay Packers, Super Bowl XLV – starter
Tyler Sash, New York Giants, Super Bowl XLVI – reserve
Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens, Super Bowl XLVII – starter
Sean Considine, Baltimore Ravens, Super Bowl XLVII – reserve
James Ferentz, Denver Broncos, Super Bowl 50 – DNP
Of these 19 Hawkeye players with Super Bowl rings, 14 of them actually played in the Super Bowl where he claimed his ring. Nine Hawkeyes were starters for Super Bowl champions – Jeter (twice), Niland, Jay Hilgenberg, Bortz, Hanks, Sanders, Clark, Bulaga, and Yanda. Five others – Podolak, Harty, Kratch, Sash, and Considine – didn’t start but played in the Super Bowl for the winning team.
Three Hawkeyes – Thomas Smith, Kevin Kasper, and James Ferentz – didn’t play in the Super Bowl itself but played for the Super Bowl champion team in the regular season and earned rings as a result. Finally, two Hawks – Melvin Foster and Erik Jensen – didn’t appear in any games during the Super Bowl championship year but were a part of the organization that season and collected rings from that association.
Hawkeye Super Bowl Trivia
One man stands out among Super Bowl Hawkeyes – Bob Jeter, the only Hawk to collect two Super Bowl rings as a player. Jeter started for Vince Lombardi’s Packers in Super Bowls I and II.
Interestingly enough, James Ferentz could join Jeter as the second Hawkeye player with two Super Bowl rings if the Patriots win on Sunday. Ferentz won a Super Bowl ring with the Broncos in Super Bowl 50, although as a reserve lineman, Ferentz didn’t play in the game. Since he’s a reserve lineman for New England this year, it’s theoretically possible that the same could happen Sunday and that Ferentz could wind up with two Super Bowl rings despite never playing in one!
Two Hawkeyes had terrible Super Bowl luck – Paul Krause and Wally Hilgenberg, teammates for all four of the Minnesota Vikings’ Super Bowl losses. On the flip side, they are the only two Hawkeye players to participate in more than two Super Bowls. Bruce Klosterman can sympathize, as he played in two Super Bowl losses as a member of the Denver Broncos.
Besides Krause, Wally Hilgenberg, Klosterman, and Jeter, three other Hawkeyes have played in multiple Super Bowls. John Niland, Bob Kratch, and Dallas Clark know both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat – each of these Hawkeyes appeared in two Super Bowls, winning one and losing one. Niland and Clark went 1-1 in the Super Bowl with the Cowboys and Colts, respectively.
Bob Kratch holds the distinction of being the only Hawkeye to play in the Super Bowl with two different organizations. Kratch won a Super Bowl with the Giants before being on the losing end of things with the Patriots. He will remain the only Hawkeye to play in two Super Bowls for two different organizations, while both James Ferentz and Adrian Clayborn will join him Sunday as Hawkeyes to participate in two Super Bowls with two different organizations.
If Ferentz and Clayborn both play in Sunday’s game for the Patriots, they would become the fifth pair of Hawkeyes to play in a Super Bowl together as teammates. The previous three pairs – Marshal Yanda and Sean Considine for the Ravens, Bob Sanders and Dallas Clark with the Colts, and Jay Hilgenberg and Mark Bortz with the Bears – all won Super Bowls together. As noted, Wally Hilgenberg and Paul Krause paired up in four Super Bowls for the Vikings but suffered losses in each one.
If either Ferentz or Clayborn play for the Patriots Sunday, and if Austin Blythe gets the start for the Rams as expected, Super Bowl LIII will be the sixth time in Super Bowl history where Hawkeyes played in the game against each other. That practice started back in Super Bowl I when Curt Merz of the Chiefs saw his team fall to Jeter’s Packers. Podolak’s Chiefs handed Krause and Wally Hilgenberg their first of four Super Bowl losses in Super Bowl IV, and two years later, Niland’s Cowboys bested Noonan’s Dolphins in Super Bowl VI.
Super Bowl XX was the only Super Bowl to feature three Hawkeye starters, as Jay Hilgenberg and Bortz led the Bears to Super Bowl victory over Tippett’s Patriots. Finally, Merton Hanks’ 49ers topped Ronnie Harmon’s Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX.
If Ferentz, Clayborn, and Blythe all play, Sunday would be the third Super Bowl with a trio of Hawkeyes on the field, joining Super Bowl IV (when Podolak’s Chiefs topped the Vikings of Krause and Wally Hilgenberg) and Super Bowl XX, when Tippett’s Patriots lost to Jay Hilgenberg, Mark Bortz, and the Chicago Bears.
Other Hawkeyes in the Super Bowl
I should also note that the entire discussion of Hawkeyes in the Super Bowl to this point has only included Hawkeyes who were NFL players. This is important, because several Hawkeyes have earned Super Bowl rings on the sidelines! For instance, I would guess that Tom Moore probably has more Super Bowl rings than any other Hawkeye. He served as Chuck Noll’s receivers coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers when they won Super Bowls XIII & XIV, and he was also Peyton Manning’s offensive coordinator when the Indianapolis Colts won Super Bowl XLI. His three Super Bowl rings as a coach trump even Jeter’s output!
Other Hawkeyes earned Super Bowl rings on the sidelines as well. Dennis Green was the wide receivers coach of the San Francisco 49ers when the team won Super Bowl XXIII. Jim Caldwell was the quarterbacks coach for the Colts when he, Sanders, Clark, and Moore claimed rings for Super Bowl XLI, and he added a second Super Bowl ring with Yanda and Considine while serving as the offensive coordinator of the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. Just off the top of my head, those are three former Hawkeye players who went on to earn Super Bowl rings while coaching.
If you include Hawkeye coaches, you can find even more Super Bowl connections. For example, Carl Jackson, the longtime Iowa running backs coach under both Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz, served as the running backs coach for the 49ers when they captured Super Bowl XXIX. And Jerry Burns, the former Iowa head coach from 1961-1965, coached in six Super Bowls, including victories in Super Bowls I & II as an assistant coach for Lombardi’s Packers.
Finally, let’s take a moment to recognize Scott Helverson, the former Hawkeye receiver who officiated Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLV as a back judge. It’s always great to see a Hawkeye on the field at the Super Bowl!
I hope you enjoyed this look back at Super Bowl Hawkeyes…and best wishes to all six Hawkeyes associated with the teams of Super Bowl LIII!
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