Pick your NFL playoff plot, plug in your local angle, dial up a former local collegiate star because on conference title day, most everything is covered.
If you can’t find an angle, turn on golf or take a nap.
Former BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy will try to help spoil one of the most important games in Kansas City Chiefs history by denying a trip to the Super Bowl for former BYU offensive lineman and Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and fellow Cougar and starting K.C. safety Daniel Sorensen. Meanwhile, a former Ute and Cougar have high hopes to trigger a Saints trip to the Big One by tripping up the Los Angeles Rams and a former Utah State star.
Reid, one of the most respected head coaches in the league, has never won a Super Bowl and he won’t do it this year unless his high-flying Chiefs, riding the league’s most explosive offense, get by Van Noy and the Patriots on Sunday.
Former Utah cornerback Marcus Williams and BYU’s Taysom Hill could prove key in the New Orleans Saints assault on the Rams, who use the services of receiver and return specialist JoJo Natson, a former Aggie.
Most experts pick New Orleans to beat L.A. and Kansas City to retire the Patriots and meet in the Super Bowl. In each of those scenarios, BYU would be represented in the Super Bowl by a former player.
Hill is a headliner, albeit tough to pin down.
“The family really gets excited to see what Taysom is going to do next,” said his brother-in-law, David Nixon, an older sibling to Hill’s wife, Emily. Hill has become an intriguing sideshow inside the NFL this season.
“They’re using him everywhere it seems,” said Nixon. “From a defensive perspective, it’s tough. You see him line up in the backfield or go in motion. It really forces you to account for him when he’s on the field.”
In last week’s divisional playoff game, Hill may have turned the game around for the Saints on a 4-yard fake punt conversion that kept a drive alive in the Saints' comeback victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
“He should have had a touchdown catch, but it was tipped at the last second, and he did throw a touchdown pass that was taken away by a holding penalty,” said Nixon, a former NFL player and linebacker for the Cougars who now does BYUtv analyst work.
The Hill story has taken on a life of its own in the NFL. The former Cougar is playing more positions for the Saints than anybody in the league. He’s seen action at tight end, H-back, receiver, quarterback, special teams defender and returner, and fake punt specialist.
Van Noy knows about Hill's success this year and has exchanged some friendly banter with him through Twitter following last week’s games. These former teammates have had fun this year. Each has had their moments in highlight videos. The third week of December, Hill, Van Noy and Sorensen all scored a touchdown in their respective games.
Since 2016, Van Noy is one of three Patriot players to have at least 160 tackles, eight sacks, 12 quarterback hits and two interceptions. He knows his Pats are underdogs against Reid’s Chiefs, who are a scoring machine.
“We enjoy being the underdog,” Van Noy said on Boston’s 98.5 The Sports Hub this past week. “We hear people (say), ‘Guys are old. The linebackers are slow.’ But at the end of the day, we believe (in) the guys in our room that we have. We know what we’re capable of.”
For the Chiefs' Reid, a member of the French Legion in the late 1970s in Provo playing for the late line coach Roger French, Sunday’s game with the Patriots is a gateway game for Kansas City. Reid will be 61 in March, and while he came close to a ring with Philadelphia and Donovan McNabb, this may be the best chance at getting back to the Super Bowl playing the Patriots at home.
The last time Kansas City won a Super Bowl was 1970 when the top grossing movie was “Love Story,” the No. 1 song was “Bridge over Trouble Waters” by Simon and Garfunkel and TV’s top show was "M*A*S*H."
The Washington Post ran a story Friday titled, “In tragedies’ wake, Andy Reid and the Chiefs found success through second chances.” It is a saga of Reid’s indefatigable drive through personal and team tragedies; getting fired from the Eagles right after the death of his 29-year-old son and then taking over the Chiefs four days later.
Winning a Super Bowl would bring Reid’s life full circle with the game and his life.
“I just want him to get a ring,” Michael Vick told the Post.
The Chiefs are led by the NFL’s leading passer, Patrick Mahomes, who many believe is having the best season by a quarterback in league history.
If Van Noy and New England’s defense are to stop Mahomes and a fusion-like Chiefs offense, it will take a monster effort.
In the Rams-Saints matchup, Williams could use a big game and is capable. The Saints pass defense struggled in September and early October, but has come a long way and Williams has been key.
Williams is the only Utah player left in the playoffs. A Saints starter in the secondary, Williams has had a solid season at safety with two interceptions. Williams should have special incentive to keep the Saints’ run rolling after what happened to him last year against the Minnesota Vikings. Williams tried to make a tackle near the sideline late in that playoff game. He missed and the receiver scored the winning touchdown. It was a painful moment for the former Ute standout and has since made him a stronger player in the league.
Williams’ work has not gone unnoticed this season as the Saints defense has come together the past month and a half. In a story by Nick Underhill Dec. 20 in the New Orleans Advocate, Williams explained, “I feel like I have a big role back there being that presence where QBs are having a hard time throwing it in the back end. I feel like I’m doing my role being the communicator and leader back there. They see what I did last year and now they want to keep it away.”
For Los Angeles, former Utah State star Natson has seen time as a receiver and punt returner. He had two punt returns for 12 yards on eight special teams snaps in the win over the Cowboys last week.
Natson will have a front-row seat to the guessing game of where Hill is in the Saints lineup.
Almost everything Hill does around the Saints camp makes news because he’s become so integral and unique as a sports figure. Just this week he made headlines because a clerical error on the All Pro voting gave his votes to Kansas City’s lightning fast receiver Tyreek Hill. After it was corrected, the Chiefs star still had more points than the BYU alum in the accounting to make the All Pro roster.
That doesn’t stop the headlines from churning out about Hill. Saints fans can’t get enough of him. The media, both in New Orleans and nationally, have kind of adopted him as a pet story, a different kind of player nobody else has.
New Orleans teammates have begun calling Hill “The Mormon Missile” after center Max Unger called Taysom that in the huddle one game.
Said New Orleans coach Sean Payton, “Every once in a while you’re around a player who just brings the energy to the rest of the team and he’s one of those guys. When he makes a play you can feel the bench react. He’s very unselfish.”
“We love Taysom Hill. We love all our Saints. Taysom is our Swiss Army Knife,” Jerry Fernandez, a bartender for Hurricane Sports Bar in Metairie, Louisiana, told the Deseret News Thursday night via telephone.5 comments on this story
After a Saints practice this week, Payton told reporters Taysom reminded him of how a famous cartoon character ran. “He is fast but a little like Fred Flintstone. His arms don’t bend.”
When told of the joke, Hill said, “It’s whatever. I go from Point A to Point B in a timely manner, so I’m not worried about it.”
This Sunday is exactly the test for the NFL faces with ties to Utah: It is a matter of getting from Point A to Point B and the Super Bowl.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Andy Reid nearly won a Super Bowl title with Michael Vick. It was actually Donovan McNabb.