Conference Championship weekend is on the horizon in the NFL. We are down to the four best teams in the NFL, two on each side. Before long, we will know who the participants in Super Bowl LVII will be and what the prominent storylines will be.
For now, there is another matter to focus on and that is the participants with connections to Iowa. There are four players vying for their chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, all of whom have connections to Iowa in some way.
Let’s take a look at each of them, how they got here, and what a Super Bowl win would mean for their legacy.
RT if a remaining playoff QB is from your state! 🙌 pic.twitter.com/mxjD9q2NtP
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 24, 2023
Players Born in Iowa
Let’s start with the players who were born and raised in Hawkeye state. There is something to be said about those who spent the early part of their life in the state as opposed to those who simply went to school within state lines.
For this weekend, the two players born in Iowa will be on opposing sides. Let’s take a look at Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jack Cochrane.
Joe Burrow, Bengals
Joe Cool, Joe Shiesty, Joe Brr. Whatever you want to call him, Burrow has become one of the premier quarterbacks in the entire National Football League. No doubt he is one of the best NFL players from Iowa of all time.
He is here for the second year in a row, a rematch with the Chiefs. Last year, he took the Bengals to their first Super Bowl appearance in four decades and looks to make this trip a winner.
Burrow has done it all for the Bengals, playing a key role in the surprising win in Buffalo during the divisional round. Burrow had an outstanding regular season en route to a 12-4 Bengals record, posting 35 touchdowns, 4,475 passing yards, and looking every bit like the franchise quarterback he was projected to be.
In the face of a snow storm and one of the most intimidating places to play in the league, Burrow looked like any of his nicknames. He was cool in the face of pressure, completing nearly 64% of his passes for 242 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He kept drives going and never really gave the Bills a chance to come back, booking a ticket to the AFC Championship for the second year in a row.
There is a lot to like about Burrow, too. For Iowa residents, there is the obvious factor. On a national level, he displays a cool demeanor, comes off as amiable, and simply has the “it” factor. He has all the talent in the world and has cemented his place among the Josh Allen’s, Patrick Mahomes’, and Aaron Rodgers’ of the NFL.
Joe Burrow, Blake Griffin, and roughly 20 other athletes are purchasing a 104-acre farm in Iowa for roughly $5 million.
The group will eventually buy 4 more properties — leasing the land to farmers and seeking a single-digit-percentage annual return on the total investment.
— Front Office Sports (@FOS) January 10, 2023
Jack Cochrane, Chiefs
Cochrane is a rookie with the Chiefs, an undrafted free agent who signed with the team during the off-season. Cochrane was born in Mount Vernon, Iowa and played his high school ball there as well. Without many offers from division-I schools, Cochrane took his talents to South Dakota for college.
At South Dakota, he was a standout linebacker. In 2019, he would take second-team All-MVFC honors. He would follow that up with a first-team All-MVFC appearance in 2021, solidifying himself as a solid college linebacker with the potential to go pro.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of spotlight to be had at South Dakota. Cochrane would go undrafted, though he would sign as a free agent with the Chiefs on May 1, 2022. He was waived in August, signing with the practice squad and, eventually, the active roster on September 13, 2022.
Given that the Chiefs are arguably the best team in the NFL, it was mostly special teams duty for Cochrane as a rookie. He would play more than 65% of the special teams snaps in all but five games, maxing out at 83% of the snaps for his first game, week 3 against the Indianapolis Colts.
Cochrane won’t play a major role in the Chiefs’ efforts to reach Super Bowl LVII but if they can win, it will certainly be a season to remember for him.
6⃣0⃣5⃣ ➡️ 8⃣1⃣6⃣
LB Jack Cochrane (@jacko_cochrane) is headed to KC after signing a free-agent deal with the @Chiefs!
Congratulations Jack! The league doesn't know what's about to hit 'em 👀#WeAreSouthDakota x #ProYotes🐾 pic.twitter.com/riOaRpiJxn
— South Dakota Football (@SDCoyotesFB) May 1, 2022
Iowa College Graduates
The Iowa-born players are not the only ones giving Hawkeye state residents a reason to cheer. There are a pair of college graduates from Iowa – one from Iowa, the other from Iowa State, to be exact – that are also looking to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.
George Kittle, 49ers (Iowa Hawkeyes)
There may be no player in the NFL that has more fun than George Kittle. A fun fact about Kittle: even though he was born in Wisconsin, he and his family moved to Iowa when he was very young. He went to Iowa City West High School, eventually committing to the University of Iowa where his dad, Bruce, played and coached.
Kittle, despite having the size, speed, and skill to be a standout, never really stood out in a major way at Iowa. Though he had 10 receiving touchdowns over his Junior and Senior season, he only caught 20 and 22 passes respectively. The result was being picked by the San Francisco 49ers in the 5th round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Since being drafted, Kittle has developed into one of the best tight ends in the game. He has been to the Pro Bowl four times (2018, 2019, 2021, 2022), earned second-team All-Pro honors twice (2018, 2022), and first-team All-Pro honors once (2019). When there is a discussion of the best tight ends in football, his name is on the very short list.
What makes Kittle stand out from the elite tight ends is the love he shows for the game. You won’t find it difficult to locate clips of Kittle blocking, a smile on his face, or a giggle coming from him. He simply loves to play football.
Like Burrow, Kittle is looking to make his second trip to the Super Bowl. And like Burrow, he is looking to avenge a previous loss, his being to the Chiefs in the 2019 Super Bowl.
In Brock Purdy’s four years at Iowa State, the Cyclones lost 20 games. George Kittle explains why the experience of going through the ups and downs is a good thing when a QB gets to the next level.pic.twitter.com/w9T9SlPF9r
— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoNBCS) January 21, 2023
Brock Purdy, 49ers (Iowa State Cyclones)
Of the four players vying for a chance to make the Super Bowl, Brock Purdy’s story may be the most interesting. A three-star recruit nationally, Purdy left Arizona to commit to Iowa State University prior to the 2018 season.
Over his four seasons at Iowa State, Purdy showed himself to be a player. He threw for more than 12,000 yards and 80 touchdowns during his tenure, even leading the Cyclones to a 9-3 record and a Fiesta Bowl victory over the Oregon Ducks as a Junior.
By the time he left college, he had three All-Big-12 nods and held 32 total records at Iowa State. That includes pass attempts, yards, completions, passing touchdowns (81), and total touchdowns (100). He also tripled the previous record for 300-yard passing games, posting 14 over his tenure.
Purdy would become Mr. Irrelevant of the 2022 NFL Draft, selected with the very last pick – 262nd overall – by the 49ers. It was mostly bench action for Purdy until fate struck prior to the team’s week 13 matchup with the Miami Dolphins.
Starter Trey Lance was lost to a knee injury to start the season. Backup Jimmy Garoppolo, the incumbent from last year, would go down with an ankle/foot injury, leading to the ascension of Purdy. To call Purdy’s stint a success would be putting it mildly.
He won all five of his starts, posting a 119.4 passer rating – the highest for a quarterback in his first five starts since Kurt Warner in 1999. Purdy would throw for nearly 1,400 yards, 13 touchdowns, and just four interceptions. He also became the first 49ers rookie quarterback ever to start and win a playoff game with the Wild Card win over Seattle.
If the 49ers can reach the Super Bowl, the comparisons to Kurt Warner and Tom Brady will run rampant. Purdy is in rarified air with his situation and performance. It is just a matter of whether he can continue his run, get the 49ers out of Philadelphia with a win, and continue the march toward a 6th Super Bowl title for the 49ers. What a story it would be.
🎥 Jalen Hurts vs. Brock Purdy 2019
Hurts & Purdy combine for 11 TDs as Oklahoma survives Iowa State comeback. pic.twitter.com/nngGjWK0WJ
— Victor Williams (@ThePhillyPod) January 23, 2023
Who’s it Going to Be?
The million-dollar question that everyone is wondering is “who will make it to the Super Bowl?” There are certainly the favorites – the Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles will each be favored – but being a favorite is just the start.
On paper, it is hard to argue against the chances of the Chiefs. With Mahomes at the helm, they are always a threat to make a Super Bowl run. That said, never count out Burrow, especially given the fact that he walked into Kansas City last year and walked away with an AFC title.
The 49ers are going to give the Eagles all they can handle with both Kittle and Purdy playing key roles. Whatever happens, the Hawkeye state will have at least one representative in the big game to come in February.
Credits on Featured Image: AlexanderJonesi, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons