For most of Sunday afternoon, it looked like former Florida football player Dante Fowler Jr. would get a chance to play in the Super Bowl.
His underdog Jacksonville Jaguars, with a coach who had never been to the playoffs prior to this season and a quarterback who had never even won more than five NFL games in a calendar year, marched into a cold, hostile environment in Foxborough and outplayed the mighty New England Patriots for the first three quarters.
When it came to addressing the NFL community that had overlooked his team all season, former…
Fowler Jr. was a key factor in Jacksonville’s early success. The former Ray Graves Award winner — given annually to UF’s most valuable player — sacked Tom Brady twice in the first half, both times on third down. His first sack held New England to a field goal and his second forced the Patriots to punt.
However, as they so often do, the Patriots stormed back in the fourth quarter, scoring 14 unanswered points and punching their ticket to another Super Bowl. Despite the loss, the future looks bright for Jacksonville, and Fowler Jr. figures to play a big role going forward after recording 10 sacks this year in the regular season and playoffs combined.
Former Gators played a much quieter role in the NFC Championship Game. Trey Burton, who was signed by Philadelphia as an undrafted free agent in 2014, notched his first career postseason reception in the Eagles’ dismantling of the Vikings. Burton has had a breakout season with five touchdown receptions and should see significant playing time against New England.
Burton expressed his jubilation after the game, tweeting, “PHILADELPHIA WE ARE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL!!!!!” The tweet quickly went viral, and as of press time has over 4,000 retweets and almost 18,000 favorites.
At least one former Gator is guaranteed to get a Super Bowl ring. Joining Burton on Philadelphia’s roster is cornerback Jaylen Watkins, who hasn’t seen much playing time this year. For New England, UF is represented by running back Mike Gillislee, who scored five touchdowns in the regular season but has been inactive in the postseason with a knee injury. This is the 16th consecutive year Florida has had a former player in the Super Bowl.
There were also a couple notable developments last week involving former Gators players who are now NFL coaches.
Despite leading the franchise to its first playoff win in 14 years and receiving a vote of confidence from the team’s owner just a week prior, coach Mike Mularkey was fired by the Tennessee Titans on Jan. 15. Mularkey played for Florida in the early 1980s, and had been the Titans’ coach for two and a half seasons.
Elsewhere, former Gators quarterback Brian Schottenheimer was named offensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks.