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COMMENTARY

Shatel: Four cheers for these guys on conference championship Sunday, if not these NFL teams

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Ndamukong Suh

Former Husker Ndamukong Suh has had a so-so season with the Rams, but he played what coach Sean McVay called his best game in a playoff victory over Dallas. Maybe he’s peaking in time for a run to his first Super Bowl.

Four teams. Two games. Two torches to be passed or kept. The best day of the NFL season is here.

I have no skin in the game. My wife won’t let me gamble. But I have four rooting interests to keep me busy.

1. Ndamukong Suh

The former Husker was meant to be on a championship team. He did everything he could except sack the timekeeper in the 2009 Big 12 championship game. He was drafted by Detroit, then went to Miami. Enough said.

Is this finally the year of the Suh-per Bowl? There, I said it.

Today’s NFC championship at New Orleans is the biggest game of Suh’s career, and it comes with a touch of irony. Last year, when Suh was shopping for a team to take him to the next level, he chose the Rams over the Saints.

It was not exactly a secret why Suh signed the one-year, $14 million contract. The Rams were putting together an All-Pro defense and had legendary coordinator Wade Phillips calling the shots. Certainly, if everything went according to plan, superstars in L.A. have post-career opportunities everywhere you look.

Here’s what’s interesting: The Rams are right on schedule, playing to go to the Super Bowl. And Suh is coming off a big game: four tackles, one tackle for loss and two hits on Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott.

Rams coach Sean McVay said that was Suh’s best game of the year. That kind of game used to be par for Suh’s career. He hasn’t had the kind of season anyone hoped. Aaron Donald is the star of the D-line, and it took time for the two to mold together.

The Rams hope last week means Suh is waking up just in time for the money games. It would be fun to have Suh in the Super Bowl, and the timing could be good for Nebraska football.

Suh, who won the Outland Trophy and finished fourth in the Heisman voting as an NU senior, has stayed away from the program in recent years — though he did return for the Akron game this past fall. Reportedly, he wasn’t keen on the past athletic regime. Imagine that.

There are signs that Suh might be ready to have a presence again around the program and the strength palace that bears his name. Maybe he’ll flash a Super Bowl ring the next time he’s there.

2. Andy Reid

A Chiefs win today would mean we would spend the next two weeks watching Reid in the Punt, Pass and Kick video about a million times. And I would watch it all one million.

That’s not why I want Reid to win. The big bear has an extremely likable quality and, for me, it has to do with his story.

Reid is a football brainiac with a passion for the sport and a history of diving too deep. He’s the epitome of the coach who sleeps in his office. Reid did so on many occasions as an assistant at Green Bay and head coach of the Eagles.

With that came a disconnect with his family. His two sons had problems with drugs, and Reid lost one of them to an overdose. The turmoil impacted his job, as you might expect, and he was fired by the Eagles after a career in which he led them to a Super Bowl.

Through it all, Reid handled himself with class and a quiet dignity. He lived through every parent’s nightmare, and is certainly not alone in the struggle for balance.

Someone who can relate is Super Bowl champion coach Tony Dungy, whose son committed suicide and who often spoke to Reid. There’s a quote in a Washington Post story by Dungy, saying through his family problems, Reid learned that “everybody who has a problem is not a bad person.”

Within days of his Philly exit, Reid was scooped up by Kansas City owner Clark Hunt. He has taken advantage of his second chance. In fact, Reid has welcomed several players who needed second chances, including Michael Vick, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill.

I also like the Reid story for the way he scouted and schemed to basically steal Patrick Mahomes, a transformational quarterback, right under everyone’s nose.

Reid is a disciple of the LaVell Edwards (BYU), Bill Walsh and Mike Holmgren West Coast offenses. Yet he saw something in the Texas Tech Air Raid schemes that he could use and make Mahomes virtually impossible to stop. It’s a hybrid they’ll be calling the Andy Reid offense if they win the Super Bowl.

The Chiefs have had their share of heartbreak, on the field and off with the deaths of Joe Delaney, Derrick Thomas and Jovan Belcher. A Super Bowl can’t ease all the pain. But it would sure be nice to see some smiles around Arrowhead tonight. Starting with the coach.

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3. Drew Brees

Back in my days as a San Diego Charger fan, I happened to be at the Chargers’ final game of the 2005 season. The Bolts were out of the playoffs and hosting Denver.

Near the end of the first half, Chargers quarterback Drew Brees was sacked near his goal line by Denver safety John Lynch. The ball popped out and, as Brees dived on it, he was crushed by a Denver lineman. Brees was helped off the field, holding his shoulder. It looked bad.

The image still makes me sick. I was a big Brees fan. He had been good, not great, for San Diego, but he got caught in the middle of a political game between coach Marty Schottenheimer and the general manager, who drafted Philip Rivers in 2004 to be the franchise quarterback.

There was no reason for Brees to play in that final game of 2005 — other than Schottenheimer showing the GM who was boss — and there he was, suffering an injury that could have prevented him from continuing his career elsewhere.

Of course, we know the rest of the incredible Brees story. Miracle surgery. A flier by the New Orleans Saints. A Super Bowl championship and a Hall of Fame career.

I still wonder what might have been had Brees remained in San Diego. But perhaps in some odd way, the surgery re-energized him. Almost losing his career made him more determined, and having Sean Payton as coach didn’t hurt, either.

I’m still a Brees fan. And while I know he already has his Super Bowl ring, a second would elevate him among the game’s greats and would be a terrific way for him to ride off into the sunset.

As opposed to being helped off the field.

4. The Patriots Dynasty — and Rex Burkhead

It’s not popular to root for the NFL’s Evil Empire. But something that the great Bob Gibson once said has always stuck with me.

Someone asked the Hall of Fame pitcher if he rooted for underdogs, and Gibson said no, he always rooted for greatness. He enjoyed seeing excellence rewarded. And who better to know about that topic?

The Patriots have been the standard for 18 years. At times it’s been sketchy. There was the Spygate with the Jets and Deflategate with Tom Brady. People have their conspiracy theories. I honestly don’t think those things are why Brady and Bill Belichick have won five Super Bowls.

Better reasons are Adam Vinatieri, the Seahawks refusing to give Marshawn Lynch the ball and the Atlanta Falcons inexcusably blowing a 28-3 lead in the third quarter.

That said, if David Tyree doesn’t make the “helmet catch” for the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, New England has an undefeated season and six Super Bowls.

Through it all, the Patriots are still here, playing in their eighth straight AFC title game. That’s the greatest dynasty in NFL history and one of the greatest in sports.

I don’t know if I can root for Brady and Belihick to get one more, but if it happens, I can acknowledge it.

What I can do is root for former Husker running back Rex Burkhead to get a ring. After a nice career with Cincinnati, Burkhead joined the Pats in 2017 — and played in the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles. It would be great to see Rex get another shot.

Alas, what I cannot do is pick the Patriots to do it:

Kansas City 34, New England 24. Los Angeles 35, New Orleans 31.

And two weeks of my favorite Punt, Pass and Kick video.

Sports columnist

Tom is The World-Herald's lead sports columnist. Since he started in Omaha in 1991, he's covered just about anything you can imagine. Follow him on Twitter @TomShatelOWH. Phone: 402-444-1025.

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