He’ll be playing in the first Super Bowl hosted by a team in the game - granted, not his - and he and his teammates will be shooting for the franchise’s second straight NFL title. Only thing that could make it better would be a guarantee Mathieu will share in joy no matter who wins.
Oh, wait. He will.
Most of you know the connection between he and Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians. If you don’t, here’s a quick recap: Mathieu got in trouble while playing collegiately at Louisiana State University (LSU) to the point he ended up out of college football altogether before entering the 2013 NFL Draft. In that draft, Arian (then the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals) took a chance on the troubled youth. Three seasons later Mathieu earned his first of three First-Team All-Pro selections and his first of two Pro Bowl selections.
It’s been a success is what we’re trying to say.
And Mathieu has never forgotten the man who rolled the dice on a kid so many wouldn’t. Arians wasn’t alone though, as Mathieu pointed out in his Super Bowl LV press conference on Monday.
“He’s (Arians) one of the first guys to really believe in me. To really put his arm around me. Him and his wife both,” Mathieu said of his former head coach and wife Christine Arians. “The encouraging words that they always gave to me, and not just coach Arians. You know, Nick Rapone (Buccaneers safeties coach), Kevin Ross (Buccaneers cornerbacks coach), Todd Bowles (Buccaneers defensive coordinator)...that’s where my start in the NFL came from. Those guys were my teachers. Those guys were the guys that were encouraging me to not only be a great football player but to be a great person off the field.”
The connections between Mathieu and the Buccaneers don’t end there though. Current Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich was also in Arizona with Mathieu for a period, and while most wouldn’t expect there to be a close connection between a defensive player and an offensive coach, Mathieu assured the media their relationship was a solid one as well.
“Me and coach Leftwich, we used to actually sit in the sauna after practices even sometimes before practices together,” said Mathieu. “We always used to talk ball. Even then I knew he was an intelligent guy. A guy that understood not only offense but defensively as well. So even as a young guy, I knew he was going to be, at some point, an offensive coordinator or even a head coach in this league.”
As the infomercials say, ‘But wait! There’s more!’
Not only is Mathieu tied deeply to the Tampa Bay coaching staff, but he’s also tied to a certain member of the roster as well.
Both he and Leonard Fournette attended high school at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, Lousiana before heading to LSU where they each wore the number seven. Now, they’ve both been coached by the same coaching staff in large part, and will both play in the same Super Bowl game on Sunday.
The two are just a couple of years apart in age, and their relationship dates back to before either of them had a chance to play for the Lombardi Trophy. Something Mathieu reflected on as well.
“Me and Leonard go way-way back, obviously to our days at St. Augustine. Even back then I knew the kid was going to be special. I knew he loved football, and that we easy to tell, that was easy to see. He’s still bigger than me, he was bigger than me back then. But I think at the end of the day he knows I’m the big brother, but it’s going to be fun competing against him - going against him. I’m pretty sure forty years from now, fifty years from now, we’ll laugh at a table and talk about this special moment.”
For Tyrann Mathieu, there are plenty of reasons for him to want to win this game on Sunday. It’s the Super Bowl. He and his teammates have fought, bled, and worked harder than most ever realize to get to this point. For the right to defend their Super Bowl title.
And while a loss won’t make Mathieu happy by any means - let’s get that straight right here and now. There are plenty of people who would be celebrating in red, white, and pewter who hold a special place in the story of one Tyrann Mathieu.
Those people mean something to him. You can see it whenever he talks about them. This is the second time this year I’ve sat and watched a zoom conference with him, and when he talks about those people, there’s a light he can’t hide even if he wanted to. So when the game is done, whether it’s the Kansas City Chiefs or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers enjoying an awards ceremony; Tyrann Mathieu will be a winner.