Players with local ties will make an impact on Super Bowl XLV — whether it's Stevenson Sylvester or Jarrett Bush on special teams, Chris Kemoeatu making a block, Chris Hoke recording a tackle or Brett Keisel's beard.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have four players with local ties on their roster. Two of them —Sylvester and Kemoeatu — played at the University of Utah. The other two, Hoke and Keisel, are from BYU.
The Green Bay Packers have one active player, Bush, with local ties. He played at Utah State. The Packers have another player, Brady Poppinga, who played at BYU but is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Sylvester's primary role for the Steelers in on their kickoff team. He hopes his team loses the coin toss and has to kick off to the Packers so that he can be on the field when the game finally begins.
"I have enjoyed it a lot," Sylvester said of his role on the team. "To play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, you have to go through special teams the same way we did at Utah. You don't just jump into the system. That really doesn't happen with the Pittsburgh Steelers. We have so many linebackers on this squad. I had to try and shine somewhere."
Keisel, a starting defensive end, has shined as a starter for the Steelers this season. He has been a media darling in Dallas during Super Bowl week, and partly because of his beard that he began growing at the start of the season. While he's provided some comic relief in interviews, it's easy to forget that he's a quality player. He had 33 tackles, three sacks and an interception during the regular season.
His beard, however, has become noteworthy.
"When I started this thing, I said that as long as we are winning games I will let it grow," Keisel told reporters during the week. "The beard has taken on a whole new life. It helps that we are in the big dance here in Dallas, to go all the way and to do something that no one has really done. We are having a lot of fun. The chin-strap is fine, it holds it down tight. The worst parts is hairballs in my mouth from my mouthpiece. I am used to it now and I have to brush it to the side and stroke it a little bit."
Hoke, 34, is a reliable backup on the Steelers' defensive line. He is getting the near the end of his NFL career, and would love to win a third championship today.
Kemoeatu starts at guard on Pittsburgh's offensive line. The Steeler blockers have been banged up with injuries for much of the season, and Kemoeatu has helped keep the unit together. It would be a nice payoff for him to win a third championship.
"This is my third Super Bowl," Kemoeatu said during the week. "It's a blessing to be here. We're enjoying it. As far as our approach to everything, it's just another game for us. We're here to win."
Bush has greatly improved for the Packers, especially during the 2010 season. He used to be vilified by fans for mistakes he made on special teams and defense. He made some big plays for Green Bay during its spectacular three-game road playoff run on special teams, and he's finally feeling the love from cheeseheads.
"It was unfortunate what they thought of me, but what I thought of them didn't change," Bush said of Packer fans a few days after Green Bay beat Chicago in the NFC championship game. "I thought they were still the greatest fans in the world. But it was up to me to change their perception of me and the way I played the game, the way I played football. And I'm as gratified, not yet satisfied, but how I've become a better player, just all-around leader on special teams. I'm just blessed and privileged to be a part of the Green Bay Packers going into the Super Bowl."
Poppinga missing the big game
Former BYU and current Packers linebacker Brady Poppinga is unable to play in today's Super Bowl. He suffered a knee injury against the Miami Dolphins during the regular season and was put on injured reserve.
"It's like you are looking out the window and watching your friends play pick-up football in the street," Poppinga told the Deseret News after Green Bay defeated Chicago in the NFC Championship game to earn a spot in the Super Bowl. "I love to see the team play well, but to not be part of it is tough."