If things had gone differently on Championship Sunday, this year's Super Bowl would be filled with players with Mississippi ties. Instead, Seattle and Denver won, knocking out most of the Magnolia State's representation.
That doesn't mean Mississippi has no one who will play in the biggest football game of the year. Denver and Seattle both have players with ties to Mississippi who could affect the outcome of the game.
The Broncos' hopes of making it to the Super Bowl looked doomed for a while back in September, when the team placed starting left tackle Ryan Clady on injured reserve. However, Denver placed former Southern Miss star Chris Clark at left tackle, and the Broncos' offense didn't miss a beat.
Clark has done an outstanding job helping the rest of the Denver offensive line protect Peyton Manning and has allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL this season, with only 20. More importantly, Clark's main job has been personally protecting Manning's blind side.
After starting every game his final three seasons at Southern Miss and earning All-Conference USA recognition his senior year, Clark spent the 2008 and 2009 seasons on the Minnesota Vikings' practice squad. He was at the 2008 Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp as an undrafted free agent.
In 2010, the Vikings waived Clark, and the Broncos picked him up. Clark has played in 40 games as a Bronco between 2010 and 2012. This season, Clark made a career high of 14 starts after only starting six games from 2010 to 2012.
Clark could spend some time on Super Bowl Sunday trying to stop Seattle linebacker and Mississippi native K.J. Wright.
Seattle spent the 99th pick of the fourth round in the 2011 NFL Draft on Wright, who was then a Mississippi State linebacker. He became a starter for the Bulldogs his sophomore season and started every game afterward except for two in his senior year due to defensive formation changes.
The former Olive Branch High School star started his career behind former first-round pick and fourth overall Aaron Curry. Wright replaced Curry just two games into the 2011 season, and the team traded Curry to the Oakland Raiders. Curry retired this season after spending time with the New York Giants, but he failed to make their final roster.
Wright has shined since becoming a starter. He finished his rookie campaign with 65 total tackles—50 of them solo—two sacks, three passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Wright made even more of an impact in his second season with 98 total tackles—60 of them solo—one sack, five passes deflected, one interception and one forced fumble in 15 games.
This season, Wright started 13 games with 80 tackles—46 solo—1.5 sacks, four passes deflected and one fumble recovery. Wright also was one of the few players able to defend New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham this season when the two teams met.
Wright suffered an injury late this season but was able to return in time to see action in the NFC Championship Game. In that game, Wright finished with two tackles—one solo—, and the Seahawks advanced to the Super Bowl.
Two other players from Mississippi State are on the Seattle practice squad. Former Mississippi State star receiver Arceto Clark and former standout defensive tackle Dewayne Cherrington are not on the active roster but play an important role as practice squad players.
Of course, Peyton Manning, the quarterback of the Denver Broncos, has ties to Mississippi because of his father, Archie Manning, as well as his mother, who is from Neshoba County. Manning still has fans in this state even though he snubbed Ole Miss to attend the University of Tennessee for his college career.
In a six-degrees-of-separation way, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has ties to Jackson. Before becoming president of Norfolk University, Wilson's grandfather, Harrison B. Wilson Jr., was an assistant football coach and men's basketball coach at Jackson State University in the '50s.
Wilson's father (Harry) and uncle (Ben) were raised in Jackson and around all the great athletes at Jackson State and in the SWAC at the time. If Mississippians can get past the Richard Sherman post-NFC Championship Game Rant, Wilson's ties could be a reason to root for the Seahawks quarterback.