On February 6th, two full NFL squads of 53 players and two coaching staffs of 21 players (for the Green Bay Packers) and 16 players (for the Pittsburgh Steelers) will go head-to-head with the biggest of prizes, the Super Bowl, on the line. Do the math and you'll find that 143 people will be involved in this Super Bowl. But how many of them have ties to Arizona? It turns out that two players and six coaches have very unique connections to our great state. Let's take a look at all eight:
Packers' running back Dimitri Nance
Nance went to Arizona State University for four years and graduated last May. He did not get picked in last year's draft, and his NFL future looked uncertain until the Atlanta Falcons signed him. Nance unfortunately didn't get any playing time with the Falcons, and again his future looked uncertain. As fate would have it, though, the Packers signed Nance up off of the Falcons' practice squad. On the season, Nance had 36 rushes for 95 yards and three receptions for 36 yards. If running backs James Starks, Brandon Jackson, or John Kuhn sustain injuries during the game, Nance could be called on to step up in the biggest game of his life.
Steelers' assistant head coach/defensive line coach John Mitchell
Mitchell started his college football career in Arizona. He spent two years at Arizona Eastern Junior College (1969-70) and was a dominant two-time Junior College All-American defensive end. Scouts took notice, and he transferred to Alabama for his junior and senior years. Those Alabama teams went on to post 11-1 and 10-2 records, though both seasons ended with bowl game loses in the Orange Bowl and the Cotton Bowl Classic. In addition to helping his team win during these two seasons, Mitchell also earned All-America honors at the end of his senior year. He undoubtedly had an impressive college career after getting his start at Arizona Eastern Junior College.
Packers' defensive quality control coach Scott McCurley
McCurley played college football as a linebacker at the University of Pittsburgh for four seasons from 1999-2002. Pittsburgh, of course, is on the other side of the country. How is this relevant to Arizona? A certain star Cardinals wideout began his football career as a freshman at Pittsburgh in 2002. Larry Fitzgerald's freshman season coincided with McCurley's senior season, and the two of them led the Panthers to a 9-3 record and a 38-13 victory over Oregon State in the Insight Bowl.
Steelers' special teams coordinator Al Everest
Everest began his 14-year NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals. Everest spent his first four seasons with the Cardinals (1996-99) before coaching for the New Orleans Saints (2000-2005), San Francisco 49ers (2007-09), and the Steelers (2010).
Packers' secondary-cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr.
Whitt had a four-year stint at Louisville as cornerbacks coach and recruiting coordinator from 2003-2006. During his time there, he worked with safety Kerry Rhodes and played a big role in preparing Rhodes for the NFL. Rhodes, after spending his first five seasons with the New York Jets, is now with the Cardinals. He recorded his best statistical season in 2010 since his first year in the league, racking up 90 total tackles and four interceptions.
Steelers' cornerback Bryant McFadden
McFadden spent the 2009 season with the Cardinals, but he has spent the other five years of his career as a Steeler. McFadden played nickelback in his first four seasons in Pittsburgh (2005-2008) before leaving as a free agent in the 2008 off-season and signing a two-year, $10 million contract with the Cardinals. He had a disappointing year at cornerback though, and during the off-season the Cardinals traded him back to the Steelers in addition to a sixth round pick (the 195th overall) for the Steelers' fifth round pick (the 155th overall). The Cardinals ended up taking quarterback John Skelton with that draft pick.
Steelers' running backs coach Kirby Wilson
Wilson, after beginning his NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, joined the Cardinals in 2004 as their running backs coach. Wilson most notably coached running back Edgerrin James in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, during which James posted a total of 2,381 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns in addition to 421 receiving yards. Wilson left the Cardinals in 2007 and joined the Steelers, and he has played a huge role in shaping the Steelers' running game over the past few seasons around running back Rashard Mendenhall. He is now in his fourth season with the Steelers.
Packers' strength and conditions coordinator Mark Lovat
The biggest surprise of all, though, might be Lovat. Before joining the Packers organization in 1999, Lovat spent six-and-a-half years in Arizona, making him the longest tenured Arizona resident on this list. During this time, though, he wasn't working with the Cardinals or any of Arizona's college football teams, as you might suspect. He was busy educating high schoolers. Lovat taught at Lake Havasu City High School as a Spanish teacher, and he also worked as the school's football and baseball coach. It is hard to fathom the jump he must have made in 1999, when his time at Lake Havasu came to an end and he signed with the big-time Green Bay Packers. His story is, to say the least, impressive.
So there you have it. Arizona will have, to varying degrees, eight representatives in this Super Bowl. This game will undoubtedly center around the big stars, from Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger to Clay Matthews and Troy Polamalu. You can bet, however, that these eight individuals will do everything in their power to help their respective teams become world champions.