Super Bowl 47: NFLPA Legends Brunch Brings Out Greats of the Game
The Super Bowl isn’t just a great opportunity for football fans to gather and celebrate the Big Game, but for former players to do the same, including many members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. On Sunday morning, the NFL Players Association hosted its third annual Legends Brunch at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.
Former NFL greats -- Willie Roaf (Hall of Fame 2012, 11-time Pro Bowl, Saints Hall of Fame), Kevin Mawae (8-time Pro Bowl, LSU Hall of Fame), Rickey Jackson (Hall of Fame 2010, Super Bowl XXIX champion with 49ers, number retired by Saints), Charlie Joiner (NFL Hall of Fame 1996, Chargers Hall of Fame, 3-time Pro Bowl, recently retired as Chargers wide receivers coach) and Dermontti Dawson (Hall of Fame 2012, Steelers center 1988-2000, Super Bowl XXX participant) -- gathered to share their perspectives on football and the Big Game.
The panel, before a crowd of 300 guests (many wearing Ravens and 49ers gear), was moderated by former player and CBS Sports analyst Spencer Tillman and included introductory remarks by NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith.
Before the brunch, several of the all-time NFL greats stopped by to chat about their Super Bowl experiences, their favorite young players to watch and thoughts on tonight’s Ravens-49ers matchup.
Willie Roaf, one of the best offensive linemen ever to play the game, emphasized the importance of the offensive lines in the game.
“When I focus the game, I focus on the line so I watch a lot of line play,” Roaf said. “My last coach [offensive line coach] Mike Solari is with the 49ers now and he’s a stickler to making sure you know your assignment and making sure you’re serious about your technique and he stays on top of you so he’s done a great job with the 49ers. It’s going to be fun to watch the battle because those are two real good offensive lines playing against each other.”
Roaf also sees the 49ers quarterback as the most important player to watch.
“Can they contain Kaepernick?” Roaf asked. “It’s going to be tough to contain that young guy. He can beat you in so many ways. You’ve got a younger team going against the older team kind of like what happened in Miami last year so is the old dog going to teach the young dog new tricks? We’ll see what happens but I like the 49ers.”
Kevin Mawae never played in a Super Bowl (he advanced to the AFC Championship with the Jets in 1998), but as a Louisiana native and LSU grad feels very invested in this year’s game.
“I think it’s pretty special,” Mawae said. “I was at the last one [in New Orleans] in 2002. I was able to bring my dad and my father-in-law to that game and in light of everything it was right after 9/11. That was a pretty emotional deal for the state of Louisiana and for our country in general. But to have this come back now and for New Orleans to be able to showcase what the city is all about and the state of Louisiana and the economic impact, all of that combined is a great experience. I’m just happy to be part of it and proud to say it’s my home state and I get to be a part of it.”
Mawae also relishes Super Bowl week as a way to show off his home state and its famous cuisine.
“There’s no doubt that the food in Louisiana is second to none,” Mawae said. “I was just talking to [Saints defensive end] Will Smith earlier about crawfish. I sat on my back porch in Baton Rouge and ate 10 pounds of crawfish by myself. There’s so many great restaurants and so many great chefs. You don’t want to single any of them out because they’re so awesome but the culture of the food down here is unbelievable. People who are from the midwest or northeast they don’t understand everything in Louisiana starts with two sticks of butter. And that’s a good thing.”
Charlie Joiner, Hall of Fame Class of 1996, is one of the game’s greatest wide receivers. A key member of the famed “Air Coryell” teams in San Diego, Joiner retired last month as the Chargers’ wide receivers coach. The Louisiana native ranked as the leading receiver of all-time with 750 catches when he retired after the 1986 season. Joiner reflected upon his Hall of Fame career which lacks one key part -- a Super Bowl appearance.
“The moment that really put me over that hump and I’m ashamed not to say it was a Super Bowl event but it wasn’t,” Joiner said. “It was breaking the NFL receptions record and also being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That’s two of the biggest days of my life being associated with professional football. But I kind of wish we had enough energy to get to the Super Bowl because we had some great offensive teams in San Diego and it reminds me very much of the offenses of today and we were the very same way. We had good teams but just couldn’t get over that hump to get to the big game and that’s the only disappointment that I have. Professional football is a great career and I enjoyed it immensely.”
Dermontti Dawson played opposite Ray Lewis for five of his thirteen-year career as an All-Pro center for the Pittsburgh Steelers. If you hadn’t heard, Lewis is retiring after the Super Bowl, and Dawson, a 2012 Hall of Fame inductee, took a moment to reflect on his rival’s great career.
“I had the pleasure of playing against Ray two times per year,” Dawson said, “And Ray was just a phenomenal athlete, sideline to sideline he can run with anybody. I know he’s been suffering with a torn triceps, just to see the success and his maturation coming in as a rookie and playing against him he’s one of the best to ever play the game. And I think what kind of sets him apart from other guys is because he talks the talk and he walks the walk. That’s why he’s such a great leader for Baltimore and he’s going to be missed. It’s fun to see him mature as a player and I wish him all the success. He’s one of the best middle linebackers ever to play the game.”