Neither Denver, Charlotte or Santa Clara is particularly close to Omaha, but that doesn’t mean the Midlands won’t impact Super Bowl 50. From arena football teammates to a Husker’s first interception, here’s how 50 participants in the NFL’s golden game can trace their roots back to us.
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1. Ron Rivera: Chicago selected Rivera, a linebacker, in the second round of the 1984 NFL draft. The first overall pick of that draft was former Husker receiver Irving Fryar, who scored the Patriots’ only touchdown against Rivera’s Bears in Super Bowl XX. As a senior at California, Rivera was a consensus All-American, as were Nebraska players Fryar, Mike Rozier and Dean Steinkuhler as well as Ames, Iowa, native Terry Hoage, a Georgia safety.
2. Gary Kubiak: Kubiak’s first NFL coaching job, as quarterbacks coach for the San Francisco 49ers, came in 1994 under George Seifert, who served as a graduate assistant at Iowa in 1966. The last Super Bowl in which Kubiak played was Super Bowl XXIV following the 1989 season. Kubiak, John Elway’s backup with the Broncos, played in garbage time of a 55-10 loss to the 49ers, whose last two scores were touchdown runs by former Huskers Tom Rathman and Roger Craig.
3. Mike Shula: Carolina’s offensive coordinator is the son of NFL legend Don Shula, who spent 33 seasons as the coach of the Baltimore Colts and the Miami Dolphins. Don Shula’s coaching debut came on Sept. 15, 1963, when the Colts played the New York Giants. The first points scored against Shula in his coaching career came on a field goal by Giants placekicker Don Chandler, who was born in Council Bluffs.
4. Rick Dennison: The Denver offensive coordinator’s son Steve was a pitcher at Wheaton College in Illinois in 2008-11. For two of those seasons, Steve Dennison was joined on Wheaton’s pitching staff by Omaha Burke graduate Jimmy McDonald.
5. Sean McDermott: The Panthers defensive coordinator was born in Omaha. McDermott was the linebackers coach for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008 when linebacker Stewart Bradley, in his second season out of Nebraska, led the Eagles in tackles.
6. Wade Phillips: Denver’s defensive coordinator graduated from Port Neches-Groves High School in Port Neches, Texas, just a few years before current Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis graduated from the same school. In his last game before being fired from his last head coaching job, Phillips’ Cowboys lost to the Green Bay Packers 45-7. Former Nebraska I-back Brandon Jackson scored the Packers’ first two touchdowns to spark the rout.
7. Cam Newton: He led Blinn College to an NJCAA national championship in 2009. In the championship game, Blinn defeated Fort Scott Community College — and future Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David — 31-26. David was the game’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player.
8. Peyton Manning: His final college game at Tennessee was in the 1998 Orange Bowl against Nebraska, which won 42-17 to clinch its fifth national championship. Manning went 21 of 31 for 134 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
9. Luke Kuechly: Before he made three Pro Bowls and was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, the Carolina linebacker won the 2011 Butkus Award, given to the nation’s best linebacker, as a junior at Boston College. Among the finalists he beat for the award was Nebraska’s Lavonte David.
10. Von Miller: As a high school senior in 2006, the Broncos linebacker helped DeSoto (Texas) High School to the state quarterfinals. DeSoto’s run was ended by Cedar Hill, which was led by future Nebraska cornerback Anthony Blue. At Texas A&M, Miller played Nebraska twice, registering seven tackles and three sacks in two Aggie victories. He totaled four tackles and two sacks in two wins against Iowa State.
11. Jonathan Stewart: The Panthers running back, who played college football at Oregon, averaged 95 rushing yards and scored four total touchdowns in three games against Oregon State teams led by current Nebraska coach Mike Riley.
12. Emmanuel Sanders: As a rookie with Pittsburgh in 2010, the Broncos receiver’s 28 receptions tied former Nebraska I-back Correll Buckhalter that season. Buckhalter was in the final season of his career with Denver.
13. Greg Olsen: The Carolina tight end played in the 2003 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, along with future Nebraska linebacker Corey McKeon, future NU kicker David Dyches, future Iowa quarterback Drew Tate and future Hawkeyes defensive end Bryan Mattison.
14. Demaryius Thomas: The wide receiver’s final college game before being taken in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Broncos was the Orange Bowl against Iowa. The Hawkeyes held Thomas without a catch as they defeated Georgia Tech.
15. Thomas Davis: The Carolina linebacker redshirted during his first season at Georgia in 2001, which was also Mark Richt’s first year as the Bulldogs’ head coach. Richt was born in Omaha.
16. DeMarcus Ware: The Broncos defensive end was on Troy State teams that played Nebraska in 2001, 2002 and 2003. Ware played in Lincoln in ’02 and ’03, totaling 8.5 tackles and a pass breakup in the Husker victories.
17. Josh Norman: The Carolina cornerback was selected to his first Pro Bowl this season. Also among the 25 first-time selections was Baltimore Ravens punter Sam Koch, a former Husker.
18. Aqib Talib: A three-year starter at Kansas, the Denver cornerback racked up nine tackles, two tackles for loss, six pass breakups and one fumble recovery in three games against Nebraska. Talib went 2-1 against the Huskers.
19. Ryan Kalil: A five-time Pro Bowl center, Kalil attended Anaheim (California) Servite High School, which also produced former Nebraska I-back Derek Brown. Brown is 14th on NU’s career rushing chart, running for 2,699 yards from 1990-92.
20. T.J. Ward: The Denver safety’s brother, Terron Ward, just finished his first season as an NFL running back with the Falcons after playing for current Nebraska coach Mike Riley at Oregon State. Ward rushed for 1,843 yards and 22 touchdowns for the Beavers.
21. Graham Gano: On Nov. 6, 2011, the current Panthers kicker set the Redskins’ franchise record for longest field goal with 59-yarder against the 49ers. In the same game, former Nebraska I-back Roy Helu set a franchise single-game record with 14 receptions.
22. Brandon McManus: The Broncos kicker is one of three players in NFL history to make two field goals of at least 56 yards in one game, which he did in the first quarter of the 2015 season opener. One of the other kickers with two 56-yarders in one game is Lincoln native and former UNO player Greg Zuerlein, who did it in 2012.
23. Derek Anderson: The Panthers backup quarterback was a junior at Oregon State in 2003 when current Nebraska coach Mike Riley started his second stint in Corvallis. That year, Anderson became the second player in Pac-10 history to eclipse 4,000 passing yards in a single season. He threw for 4,058 yards.
24. Brock Osweiler: The heir apparent to Peyton Manning in Denver, Osweiler was selected with the 57th pick in the 2012 NFL draft out of Arizona State. With the next pick, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David.
25. Corey Brown: When Nebraska visited Ohio State in 2012, the Panthers receiver returned a Brett Maher punt 76 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter as the Buckeyes ran away from the Huskers in a 63-38 win.
26. Bradley Roby: Now a Denver cornerback, Roby scored the first points in the 2012 Nebraska-Ohio State game when he picked off Taylor Martinez and raced 41 yards down the sideline for a score. Roby intercepted another Martinez pass later in the game.
27. Brenton Bersin: Now a receiver for the Panthers, Bersin was a rookie looking for playing time in 2013. He played in one game for the Arizona Rattlers that season, making three tackles. The Rattlers went on to win Arena Bowl XXVI with the help of former Nebraska wideout Maurice Purify.
28. Shane Ray: When Missouri beat Nebraska in Lincoln in 1978, the Denver linebacker’s dad made a crucial play. The Tigers had just taken a 35-31 lead on the No. 2 Huskers with less than four minutes left. NU’s ensuing possession began with a negative play as Missouri’s Wendell Ray sacked Husker quarterback Tom Sorley for an 8-yard loss. The Huskers eventually turned the ball over on downs. The Tigers didn’t beat NU again until 2003.
29. Cameron Artis-Payne: The Carolina backup running back attended Milford Academy, a post-secondary school in New Berlin, New York, for a year after high school. The Peter brothers, Christian and Jason, also attended the school before playing football at Nebraska.
30. Sam Brenner: The Broncos backup center was a second-team all-state selection as a senior at Oceanside High School in 2007. Future Husker defensive end Cameron Meredith, then a senior at Mater Dei High, was a third-team selection.
31. Shaq Thompson: Now a rookie linebacker in Carolina, Thompson was also a talented baseball player in high school. The Boston Red Sox drafted Thompson, an outfielder, in the 18th round of the 2012 MLB draft. With their next pick, in the 19th round, the Red Sox selected shortstop Iseha Conklin from Iowa Western Community College.
32. Evan Mathis: Denver’s starting left guard graduated from Homewood (Alabama) High School in 2000. Former Husker Ameer Abdullah was a 2011 graduate of the same school. In addition, Mathis is the nephew of Bob Baumhower, a Pro Bowl defensive tackle who anchored the Miami Dolphins’ league-leading “Killer Bees” defense in 1982 alongside defensive end Doug Betters, a Lincoln native.
33. Jared Allen: The Panthers defensive end, an Idaho State alum, won the Buck Buchanan Award as the most outstanding defensive player in the FCS in 2003. Eleven years later, Schuyler native Kyle Emanuel won the award as a senior at North Dakota State.
34. Michael Schofield: As a high school senior in 2008, the Broncos offensive tackle was a special mention All-Illinois selection by the Chicago Tribune. Future Husker safety Corey Cooper, then a junior at Proviso East High School, was on the first team, and future Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, a junior at Johnsburg, was on the second team as a linebacker.
35. Scott Simonson: The tight end, who has just one catch for 10 yards this season for Carolina, went to Middletown High School South in New Jersey, the same high school that produced former Husker defensive linemen Christian and Jason Peter.
36. Jordan Norwood: The Denver wide receiver’s dad, Brian Norwood, was Penn State’s defensive backs coach from 2001-07. His secondary contributed to the Nittany Lions’ 40-7 blowout win against Nebraska in 2002, intercepting Husker quarterback Jammal Lord three times and returning one for a touchdown.
37. Kevin Norwood: The Carolina wideout is engaged to Kayla Williams, a gymnast who helped Alabama to a third-place team finish at the 2013 NCAA championships. Another third-place finisher at the championships: Nebraska’s Emily Wong in the all-around and the floor exercise.
38. Shiloh Keo: The safety, who recovered New England’s onside kick at the end of the AFC championship game to send Denver to the Super Bowl, played in Lincoln as a senior at Idaho. In a 38-17 Husker win, Nebraska freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez threw his first career interception — to Keo.
39. Ed Dickson: As a senior at Oregon, the Panthers tight end was named to the Mackey Award preseason watch list in 2009. Nebraska’s Mike McNeill and Iowa’s Tony Moeaki were also on that list.
40. Sylvester Williams: The Broncos nose tackle started only one game in high school and walked on at Coffeyville Community College in Coffeyville, Kansas. Husker legend and 1983 Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier played his freshman season at Coffeyville.
41. Jerricho Cotchery: The veteran wide receiver, now in his second season with the Panthers, has one rushing touchdown in his career. It came in the New York Jets’ 2009 season finale; Cotchery ran in from 6 yards out as his Jets defeated Cincinnati 37-0. One other player had a long run of 6 yards in that game: North Platte native Danny Woodhead, who was a rookie for New York. In that game, Woodhead set a then-career high with six carries.
42. Danny Trevathan: The linebacker led Denver in tackles this season, but he became known for a much more embarrassing reason in his second season. In the 2013 season opener against the Ravens, Trevathan picked off Joe Flacco and ran it back toward the end zone — but he dropped the ball before reaching the goal line. Baltimore got the ball back and eventually scored a touchdown; the Ravens’ longest play on that drive was a 27-yard completion to tight end Dallas Clark, an Iowa native and former Hawkeye.
43. Kawann Short: The Panthers defensive tackle registered a double-double in leading East Chicago Central High School to an Indiana Class 4A state basketball championship in 2007. East Chicago Central’s opponent, Indianapolis North Central, got two points from Evan Gordon — who also scored two points when his Indiana Hoosiers lost to Nebraska at Pinnacle Bank Arena in 2014.
44. James Ferentz: Denver’s backup center played for his dad, Kirk, at Iowa from 2008-12.
45. A.J. Klein: The third-year linebacker, who racked up 55 tackles this season for the Panthers, played at Iowa State from 2009-12. In two games against Nebraska, he made 10 tackles; in three games against Iowa, he made 27 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
46. Shaquil Barrett: The linebacker, who has played in every game this season for the Broncos, won a Nebraska state wrestling title at Boys Town as a senior and was the defensive MVP of the Shrine Bowl. Barrett played football at UNO before it eliminated its football program, then finished his college career at Colorado State.
47. Brandon Wegher: A rookie running back for the Panthers, Wegher is the leading rusher in Morningside College history. He ran for 3,815 yards and 48 touchdowns in two seasons with the Mustangs after beginning his college career at Iowa. As a high school senior, he led Sioux City Heelan to a state championship and was the captain of the Iowa Class 3A All-State team.
48. Zaire Anderson: The former Nebraska linebacker is a rookie on the Broncos’ practice squad. He collected 159 tackles and five sacks in three seasons with the Huskers, including a team-high 103 tackles as a senior in 2014.
49. Clete Blakeman: The referee for Super Bowl 50 was a backup quarterback at Nebraska from 1984-87. He threw for 625 yards and seven touchdowns in 36 games with the Huskers, starting two games when Steve Taylor was injured. Now an attorney in Omaha, Blakeman became an NFL field judge in 2008 and a referee in 2010.
50. Omaha!: Peyton Manning, long known for surveying defenses at the line of scrimmage and barking audibles, has become known for one call in particular in recent seasons: Omaha! Nobody outside of Denver’s huddle really knows what it means — Peyton’s brother Eli and former Colts teammate Reggie Wayne have offered differing explanations — but we’re almost certain to hear the call more on Sunday. There’s even a prop bet on how many times Manning will yell “Omaha!” The over/under: 7.5.