The Super Bowl is now in its 46th year. During that time, at least 15 players, coaches, and people with managerial ties from Connecticut have played in the winter classic.
Leading the way is Patriots coach Bill Belichick from Wesleyan’s Class of 1975. Bill is the only man with strong Connecticut ties who has coached and won Super Bowl rings for both the New York Giants and for the New England Patriots. Overall, Coach Belichick has won 5 Super Bowl rings: 2 with the Giants and 3 with the Pats. His defensive game plan for Super Bowl XXV in 1990 against the Buffalo Bills – when he was defensive coordinator for the Giants – is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Belichick, who majored in economics at Wesleyan and played both football and lacrosse for the Cardinals, is taking the Pats to their fifth Super Bowl since he became head coach in 2000. This is the 8th appearance in the Super Bowl for the Patriots, tying them with both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys for the most appearances by an NFL franchise in the winter classic.
Fellow Wesleyan alum and Hartford native, Eric Mangini, was part of the Patriots’ coaching staff during their Super Bowl wins of 2001, 2003, and 2004. Mangini was the defensive backs coach for the Pats as well as the team’s defensive coordinator. He later became head coach for both the New York Jets and for the Cleveland Browns. Mangini is currently a football analyst for ESPN in Bristol.
Another Connecticut connection who played a key role for the Patriots in four Super Bowl appearances is Central Connecticut State University’s Scott Pioli. Pioli, who graduated from CCSU in 1988 with a degree in Communications, was also a standout defensive tackle for CCSU, earning All-New England honors for three years at that position. He became Vice President of Player Personnel for the Pats from 2001 to 2008 – the glory years for the franchise. During this time, the Patriots appeared in four Super Bowls, winning three of them. He is now the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Another Pats standout player is New Britain native Tebucky Jones. A graduate of Syracuse University, Jones played defensive back for the Patriots from 1998-2002. One of his most notable achievements was forcing three fumbles in the Pats’ win over the St. Louis Rams in the 2001 Super Bowl. Jones later played for the Dolphins and for the Saints. He left the NFL after the 2006 season and is currently the head football coach for New Britain High School.
Joining Tebucky Jones on the 2001 Pats’ squad was offensive guard and Southern Connecticut State University alumnus Joe Andruzzi, who played for the Patriots from 2000-2004. Andruzzi had begun his career with the Packers from 1997-2000. Following his stint with the Patriots, he finished his career with the Cleveland Browns from 2005-2006. Joe won three Super Bowl rings with the Pats.
Linebacker Eric Naposki, a UConn grad, played for the Patriots in 1988-89. He later played for the Indianapolis colts before playing a couple of more seasons for the Barcelona Dragons. Unfortunately, Naposki is better known for being convicted of a murder in a love triangle murder-for-hire scheme in southern California. He was convicted last July and will be sentenced next week to a long prison term.
Darrell Kenton Wilson of Camden, NJ, is another UConn player who played briefly with the New England Patriots in 1981. Wilson was a defensive back for the Pats. He only played in one NFL game in his career.
Another UConn grad with very little game experience in the NFL with the Pats was wide receiver Glenn Antrum. Antrum, a football star at Derby High, played with the Patriots in 1989, getting action in only one game.
Defensive back Darius Butler of UConn was drafted by the Patriots in 2009 and played for them for two seasons: 2009-2010. Following the 2010 season, Butler was waived by the Pats and was picked up by the Carolina Panthers, where he currently plays. Butler is a first cousin of Denver Broncos star running back Willis McGahee.
Two current members of the Pats with strong Connecticut ties are Aaron Hernandez and Donald Thomas. Hernandez, a native of Bristol, CT, has emerged as a versatile offensive player for the Patriots. Normally a tight end, Hernandez has teamed up with fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski to provide a formidable offensive duo for the Pats. This year #81 had 79 receptions for 910 yards – over 11 yards per reception! In addition, he caught 7 TDs. Hernandez is also an excellent blocker and has been used recently as a running back as well. Hernandez graduated from the University of Florida. His brother, D.J. Hernandez, was a star football player for UConn.
Perhaps the most interesting story of this year’s Super Bowl centers around the unusual journey of New Haven native Donald Thomas, now an offensive guard for the Pats. Thomas played only two games of football as a freshman for West Haven High School, even though he attended Career Magnet High in New Haven. The New Haven school system ultimately ruled that Thomas was ineligible to play for West Haven and that was the end of his high school football experience. Thomas, however, played soccer, basketball and baseball in high school.
He then attended UConn without the intent of ever playing football there; however, a chance pickup basketball game on campus involving some UConn football players soon changed all that. Huskies linebacker Danny Lansanah urged Thomas to tryout for the football team as a walk-on. He did and within a couple of years became a star. Drafted by the Miami Dolphins out of UConn, Thomas spent two years with the Dolphins then one year with the Detroit Lions, before signing with the Pats last September. At 6 feet 4 inches and 310 lbs., Donald Thomas is well suited as an offensive guard to fend off on-rushing defensive linemen; however, as Coach Belichick values versatile players, he has also used Thomas as a fullback in short yardage situations. It is safe to say that of all the players in this year’s Super Bowl, nobody has taken as unusual a route to get there as Donald Thomas!
There have been at least 160 men from Connecticut who have played in the NFL in the league’s 92-year history. Several of those players were members of the Hartford Blues, a Connecticut team that was part of the NFL in 1925 only. The majority of Connecticut’s NFL players and coaches have been affiliated with either the Patriots or the Giants – a total of 32.
Of this group, 17 have been affiliated with the Giants, a team that is in its 87th year in the league. The other 15 have been affiliated with the Patriots, a team that is in its 52nd year of existence. Regardless of who wins this coming Saturday, we can be sure that players and coaches with ties from Connecticut will have played a major role in the outcome of the game.
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