New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis answers questions during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015, in Chandler, Ariz. The Patriots play the Seattle Seahawks in NFL football Super Bowl XLIX Sunday, Feb. 1. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
When Sunday’s 49th version of Super Bowl XLIX kicks-off in Glendale, Arizona, the game will reflect the important legacy of the many Western Pennsylvania high school stars who have gone on to participate in the NFL’s annual season-ending showdown.
Throughout the years, the WPIAL has had the fortune of sending a significant number of players to participate in past Super Bowls.
This year’s game will feature two Western Pa. products playing for the always-powerful New England Patriots. Aliquippa native and corner back Darelle Revis and Woodland Hills High School graduate and tight end, Rob Gronkowski, one of the most feared tight ends in the league – will proudly represent the Pittsburgh region.
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski answers questions during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015, in Chandler, Ariz. The Patriots play the Seattle Seahawks in NFL football Super Bowl XLIX Sunday, Feb. 1. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
In addition to those two Patriots, other Western Pa. products that have played in past Super Bowls include Broadway Joe Willie Namath from Beaver Falls and Johnny Unitas who grew up in the City of Pittsburgh. Both quarterbacks played in Super Bowl III, during the “Guarantee Game,” when Namath’s New York Jets upset Unitas’ much-favored Baltimore Colts in a 16-7 contest that was predicted and guaranteed by Namath prior to their January 1968 victory.
Unitas would later star in Super Bowl V, and defeat the Miami Dolphins in a 16-13 matchup, decided by rookie place kicker Jim O’Brien’s field goal. Unitas grew up in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh and attended the now defunct St. Justins Catholic High School. He played for the University of Louisville after a stellar high school career.
Other local athletes who have participated in Super Bowls are Joe Montana, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who hails from the Monongehela Valley specifically Ringgold High School where he was a two-sport star, including on the basketball court.
In this Nov. 9, 2013, file photo, former Pittsburgh and NFL Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett stands on the sideline before the start of an NCAA football game between Pittsburgh and Notre Dame in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
Anthony “Hawk” Dorsett also of Aliquippa, starred at nearby Hopewell High School and the University of Pittsburgh, before earning two trips to the Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys as a star running back in Super Bowl XII (1977), a 27-10 win over the Denver Broncos and Super Bowl XIII (1978) – a 35-31 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Hopewell High School football field is named for Dorsett, along with a street near Heinz Field where the Pitt Panthers share a home-field with the Steelers.
Also on the list is Jim Kelly, the East Brady Pa. native (about 60 miles from Pittsburgh) who played in four consecutive Super Bowls (1991-1994) while quarterbacking the highly successful Buffalo Bills, although his teams were unable to achieve victory in any of those big games.
Another Aliquippa High School corner back standout, Tajuan “Ty” Law, also played in three Super Bowls, while plying his trade with the New England Patriots. He appeared in Super Bowls in 2001, 2003 and 2004 and earned Pro Bowl honors consistently. Law enjoyed a successful college career at Michigan prior to being drafted by the Patriots in 1995.
The real master blaster of Western Pa. football folklore, is one Michael Keller Ditka, the Aliquippa native who first became a household name as an All-America tight end at the University of Pittsburgh in the late 1950s.
Ditka would shine with the Dallas Cowboys and earn three Super Bowl rings; two as a player with the Cowboys in ’71 and ’77, and in 1985, he coached the ever-famous Chicago Bears to a resounding victory of the Patriots (46-10) in Super Bowl XX. His Bears team featured Walter “Sweets” Payton, Mike Singletary, Richard Dent and quarterback Jim McMahon. They were also known as the Super Bowl Shuffle” dance video team.
The high school football stadium in Aliquippa is appropriately named after Ditka, in addition to his thriving steak restaurant, Ditka’s, in Robinson Township. He also owns three other Ditka’s restaurants, two in Chicago and one, ironically in Phoenix, home of this year’s Super Bowl. Ditka is now a popular TV commentator on ESPN.
Needless to say, Western Pa. has forever established a successful niche in the success of the NFL. And come this weekend, with sights of Revis and Gronkowski on the field representing the 2014 AFC Champion Patriots, the prideful Western Pa. football legacy continues to persist in the Super Bowl — and importantly, on an international stage.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In the compilation of this article, the Courier apologizes for inadvertently omitting three other Pittsburgh area athletes who also participated in Super Bowls. For the record, the late George Blanda of Youngwood, Pa. in Westmoreland County near Greensburg, played in Super Bowl II with the Oakland Raiders versus the Green Bay Packers in January 1968. Blanda, a quarterback and place kicker, starred at the University of Kentucky under coach Paul “Bear” Bryant after high school. We also acknowledge Curtis James Martin Jr., a Point Breeze resident who starred at Taylor Alderdice High School before enjoying a stellar career at the University of Pittsburgh. Martin, a running back, went on to play in Super Bowl XXXI with the New England Patriots in January 1997 in a 35-21 loss to the Packers. Another Pitt All-American, quarterback Daniel Constantine Marino, played in Super Bowl XIX in January 1985 when his Miami Dolphins were defeated by Joe Montana’s San Francisco 49ers. Marino grew up in Oakland and attended Central Catholic High School. Blanda, Martin and Marino were all elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Blanda died in 2010. We also want to note that the New York Jets played in Super Bowl III in January 1969. The preceding article incorrectly stated that the Jets played in January 1968.)