As the NFL playoffs get rolling, football fans across the country have started thinking about the Super Bowl. Of course, there’s no NFL team that calls Iowa home, leading to divided allegiances among residents of Hawkeye State.
Still, with the Kansas City Chiefs the only Midwestern team to still be alive after the wild card weekend, most Iowans will likely look to find a temporary team to support for the rest of the playoffs.
One great way to choose whom to follow is to look at former Hawkeyes who have either won a Super Bowl with their team or could win a Super Bowl with their team. Overall, 29 Hawkeyes have managed the feat, with Jake Gervase and A.J. Jackson adding their names to the list as members of the Los Angeles Rams.
The Rams didn’t qualify for the postseason, but multiple Hawkeye players do have a chance to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the first time, with a couple having a chance to do so for the second. Here’s a look at Iowa winners and who’s got a chance!
Bob Jeter: The Only Two-Time Champion
You really have to know your Iowa history to know Jeter’s name, but if you do, then you know how strong of a runner he was in Iowa City. Jeter was the main reason Iowa teed off on California in the 1959 Rose Bowl, rushing for a then-Rose Bowl record of 194 yards on only nine carries. On one carry, Jeter went 81 yards for a score, also setting a record at the time. He became the game’s MVP as Iowa routed Cal by a 38-12 count.
In the NFL, however, he made his mark on defense. In those days, free agency was decades away and the Green Bay Packers had no use for a rookie running back with Hall of Famers Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor in their backfield. However, the Packers needed another cornerback to pair with Herb Adderley and shut down opposing passing attacks.
That became Jeter, who moved over to cornerback in 1965. The combination of Jeter and Adderley essentially prevented opponents from doing much of anything in the air against the Packers.
In his first season in the role, Jeter helped the Packers to an NFL championship (the last one before the Super Bowl existed) and helped Green Bay shut down the high-powered passing attacks of AFL champions Kansas City and Oakland in winning the first two Super Bowls.
He’s now a member of the Packers’ Hall of Fame and remains the only Iowa alumnus to win two Super Bowl rings.
Iowa ran for 332 yards led by Bob Jeter's 90 yards on 15 carries. The Hawkeyes defense allowed just 151 total yards in the shutout. pic.twitter.com/j80gmT4o86
— HawkeyesChronicles (@HawksChronicles) November 7, 2019
The Team With the Most Hawkeye Champions
It’s probably not a coincidence that Kirk Ferentz’s former boss enjoys having ex-Hawkeyes on his roster. Before taking the job at Iowa, Ferentz got started as the Cleveland Browns offensive line coach under Bill Belichick.
Belichick might have been unpopular in Cleveland, but during the turmoil, he was planting the seeds that would allow him to dominate in New England. Ferentz learned plenty from his mentor, which led to Belichick regularly adding players from his former assistant’s program.
Of the 29 Hawkeyes to win a Super Bowl, five of them traded black and gold for red, silver and blue with the New England Patriots. Kevin Kasper got a ring in Super Bowl XXXIX with New England, and the Patriots’ most recent title in 2019 saw four Hawkeyes on the roster.
Adrian Clayborn, Cole Croston, James Ferentz and Riley McCarron all won their first ring in Super Bowl LIII, which is the Patriots’ sixth and most recent championship.
Only one other franchise has seen more than two Hawkeyes win a ring with them: the Kansas City Chiefs. Unlike the Patriots, there’s no connection between coach Andy Reid and Ferentz.
Ed Podolak was the first Hawkeye to win as a member of the AFL, winning Super Bowl IV with the Chiefs in his rookie season. Podolak was a long-time contributor for the Chiefs, eventually becoming the second-leading rusher in franchise history.
Two other ex-Hawkeyes didn’t last long in Kansas City but did enough to earn a ring: Anthony Hitchens and Ben Niemann as members of the Super Bowl LIV-winning squad.
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) April 26, 2020
The Recent Hawkeye Streak: Four Straight Seasons With a Champion
As NFL rosters have expanded and Iowa’s program has maintained consistent success, seeing ex-Hawkeyes win a title has become far more common. Of the 29 Hawkeyes to own a Super Bowl ring, nine have earned theirs in the past four seasons and 16 have done so since Kirk Ferentz became the Iowa coach.
The streak got started in 2019 with Bill Belichick’s sixth title, as the Patriots won with a roster that included the four aforementioned Hawkeyes. Since then, every team that’s won the Super Bowl has included at least two players from Iowa.
In the past three Super Bowls, both teams playing in the game featured multiple players who played their college football at Kinnick Stadium. In Super Bowl LIV, the San Francisco 49ers came into the game with George Kittle and C.J. Beathard on their roster but fell to the Chiefs, whose roster included Hitchens and Niemann. The next season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Chiefs with a roster that included Anthony Nelson and Tristan Wirfs.
Last year, the Cincinnati Bengals lost to the Rams, but their roster also included two Hawkeyes: Mike Daniels and Riley Reiff. However, neither Iowa player saw any action, as Daniels was on the practice squad and Reiff was injured.
— Jay Niemann (@Coach_Niemann) January 20, 2020
Iowa’s Chances At Having a Super Bowl LVII Champion
Could the streak continue this season? If it does, only a few teams are potential candidates to keep things going. The 14 teams that qualified for the 2022-23 NFL playoffs featured a combined 20 ex-Hawkeyes, with 11 teams having at least one Iowa alumnus on their roster.
However, two of the three that don’t are strong candidates to end the streak, as the Philadelphia Eagles are the top overall seed in the NFC, and the Cincinnati Bengals return as the defending AFC champions. The third, the Miami Dolphins, was dismissed in the wild-card round of the playoffs by the Buffalo Bills.
Surprisingly, the Jacksonville Jaguars represent the most Iowa players on their roster, as four current Jaguars traded in gold for teal and made the move from Iowa City to Duval County. The Jaguars have proven to be a favorite Cinderella story, and right guard Brandon Scherff is one of the key protectors for emerging star quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
The rest of the ex-Hawkeyes aren’t likely to see a ton of time for Jacksonville, as Mekhi Sargent and Coy Cronk are on their practice squad and C.J. Beathard will never see the field unless there’s an injury to Lawrence.
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) September 13, 2021
George Kittle’s Chances
The biggest star representing the Hawkeyes who could finally get his ring is San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle. As a four-time Pro Bowl player, he’s one of the biggest reasons that Iowa has its well-earned reputation as Tight End U.
Ironically, Kittle has formed a real connection with an old rival, as former Iowa State signal caller Brock Purdy now serves as his quarterback. Kittle is having his best season to date with 11 touchdowns on the year, and the 49ers are in a prime position to make a run at what would be their sixth Super Bowl title.
Two ex-Hawkeyes have lifted the Lombardi Trophy while wearing the 49ers’ cherry and gold: John Harty in Super Bowl XVI and Merton Hanks in Super Bowl XXIX. Kittle came close three years ago, and seeing him claim a title would be a welcome sight for Iowa fans.
Bills or Buccs Lead The Favorites
If the Buffalo Bills win their first Super Bowl title, they’ll do it while carrying three Iowa alums on their roster. Bills Mafia and Iowa fans are hoping to see Micah Hyde return in the playoffs, but the veteran safety won’t play until the AFC Championship game if the Bills advance that far.
Hyde has been out with a neck injury since September, but the Bills have kept up their play without him. Having him back would help a lot if the Bills are to get past Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs and finally get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1990s.
Buffalo also features a pair of reserves who wore Iowa uniforms, Ike Boettger and AJ Epenesa.
Finally, Anthony Nelson and Tristan Wirfs went into Monday’s wild card game with Dallas with a chance to do something only one other Hawkeye has managed: win multiple Super Bowls. Nelson and Wirfs remain members of the Buccaneers, and they would join Bob Jeter as two-time champions if Tampa Bay can win four games in this tournament.
However, the Buccaneers would have one of the hardest roads to travel, as they’d have to go through three teams (Dallas, San Francisco and either Philadelphia or the New York Giants) who boast a winning record just to reach the Super Bowl.
Regardless of who Iowa fans choose to support leading up to the Super Bowl, they have plenty of options with Hawkeye bloodlines. That’s the mark of a program that’s a real factor, and it’s one reason why Kirk Ferentz has held his job for as long as he has.
— Barstool Iowa (@BarstoolUIowa) November 21, 2021