NEW ORLEANS New England linebackers Roman Phifer and Bryan Cox are finally in the Super Bowl in their 11th NFL seasons. And both are glad that if their Patriots don’t win Sunday, the title will go to St. Louis, Phifer’s former team and Cox’s hometown.
Phifer and Cox played together the previous two seasons with the New York Jets before joining the Patriots last summer after Andy Katzenmoyer and Willie McGinest were hurt.
However, while Cox is one of the NFL’s most demonstrative players on and off the field “Bryan makes it a lot louder in the locker room. I just shake my head at some of the things he says,” said linebacker Tedy Bruschi Phifer speaks in the same understated manner with which he plays. The self-described “country bumpkin” prefers to go unnoticed.
“This is what I’ve always dreamed about and worked so hard for all these years,” said Phifer, who had never even been in a playoff game before this postseason. “You start getting older and you think, ‘Am I ever going to have the opportunity?’ But life’s funny sometimes. I’m here and we’re playing the Rams.”
The Rams were 40-88 during Phifer’s eight seasons, but don’t blame him. He led them in tackles three times, including 1996 when he compiled an incredible 170. But looking for that first playoff taste, Phifer signed with the AFC runner-up Jets in 1999, only to have them tumble to 8-8 while the Rams skyrocketed to the Super Bowl championship.
“That was tough because I still felt a part of the Rams,” said Phifer, who watched his buddies reach the Super Bowl courtesy of tickets from ex-teammate Keith Lyle.
While Phifer started every game and finished second on the Patriots with 92 tackles this season just three shy of his total the two previous years with the Jets co-captain Cox has had to adjust to being a backup for the first time. He was leading the team with 44 tackles through seven games before sustaining a broken leg on an illegal block by Denver’s Dan Neil. Cox missed four weeks and when he returned, Bruschi had his job and the team was on a roll.
Cox made just five tackles the rest of the way, swallowing his fierce pride and leading by example on the sideline and in the locker room. And having never gotten beyond the AFC Championship game in three previous playoff appearances, he’s thrilled to be in the Super Bowl, in part for the forum it gives him to express his strong opinions.
“It’s very gratifying to be here,” said Cox, who has put in countless community service hours in inner cities. “I want to be a minority who can make a difference in this league, a player personnel guy in training to become a general manager or a head coach. If I’m smart enough to play your game, I ought to be smart enough to coach your game and smart enough to put together a team.
“I wish this league would take a look at some of the people who don’t look a certain way or speak a certain way and allow them the opportunity not just to interview but to be seriously considered for jobs. They’ve got a video library [of interviews] with minority coaches that teams can look at, but they’ll fly [non-minority] candidates in on a private plane. That’s a smack in the face. For me to aspire to be a head coach, a GM or a player personel director, I’m not playing on a level field.”