ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
AP photo by Mark J. Terrill / Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who played at LSU, and quarterback Matthew Stafford, who played at Georgia, celebrate during their wild-card playoff victory against the Arizona Cardinals on Jan. 17 in Inglewood, Calif. Beckham and Stafford are among several former SEC stars who will take part in Sunday's Super Bowl, either with the Rams or their opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals.

Odell Beckham Jr. cheered on Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase two short years ago, enjoying every minute as the quarterback-wide receiver duo capped LSU's 15-0 season by winning the national championship game of the College Football Playoff in New Orleans.

Beckham, a wide receiver for LSU from 2011 to 2013, will face off against those two fellow former Tigers in an NFL game for the first time Sunday, and the stakes couldn't be higher. Beckham's Los Angeles Rams will welcome Burrow, Chase and all of the Cincinnati Bengals to SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, for Super Bowl LVI.

In Beckham's freshman season, LSU came within a win of perfection, losing to Southeastern Conference rival Alabama in a BCS national title game that was a rematch from the regular season. The Tigers won 10 games each of the next two seasons but didn't play for the SEC crown or the national title again before Beckham turned pro.

Drafted 12th overall in 2014, he played five seasons for the New York Giants before being traded to the Cleveland Browns. Waived early this past November, Beckham soon after signed with the Rams and is hungry for his own championship — even if it is at the expense of Burrow, the No. 1 draft pick in 2020, and Chase, the No. 5 pick last year.

"They're born winners, so I always knew that we would see them again," Beckham said. "I mean never could it be any better than this. But so they got their ring and all that (in college), and it's like, now it's our turn to get ours."

some text
AP photo by Eric Gay / Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, left, and wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase celebrate after their team's AFC championship victory against the host Kansas City Chiefs on Jan. 30. After helping lead LSU to the College Football Playoff national title for the 2019 season, Burrow and Chase are trying to help the Bengals to their first Super Bowl victory.

LSU won't be the only SEC team that has a presence in Sunday's big game. Far from it.

The distinct SEC flavor of this Super Bowl goes well beyond Burrow and Los Angeles quarterback Matthew Stafford — who starred at Georgia — and their favorite targets.

The Rams have 11 players and the Bengals a dozen from SEC programs, with seven more combined on the practice squads. So prepare for a few more reminders of the mighty SEC's talent no matter how many folks are sick of hearing about the conference that has won 12 of the past 16 national championships.

Los Angeles left tackle Andrew Whitworth said there's no doubt that competing in the SEC gives players a significant boost once they're in the NFL. Playing at LSU in the SEC has certainly helped him be successful in the NFL for 16 seasons, the first 11 of those with the Bengals.

"The really consistent narrative is the SEC has a ton of NFL football players that get really that practice of playing against other guys that have NFL talent throughout their conference so many weeks of the season — which can't do anything but really improve your game when you start facing that kind of level of talent," said Whitworth, a two-time All-Pro first-team selection.

Nine of the SEC's 14 current member schools are represented in this game, with reigning national champ Georgia leading the way with six former Bulldogs, including two on the practice squad. LSU and Florida have five apiece, while Alabama has four.

Texas A&M has four, two on the practice squad. Rams linebacker Von Miller just missed out on the SEC experience, with his Aggies officially moving to the SEC in 2012 after Miller's first season in the NFL.

Chase was one of 65 players drafted from the SEC last April, a record that conference seems to top almost yearly. He knows his rookie season was helped by Cincinnati reuniting him with Burrow, who began his collegiate career at Ohio State before transferring to LSU for his final two seasons.

"I'd say it's the best conference in college ...," said Chase, a New Orleans native. "So when you get to the NFL, it's much easier. You know it made an impact on me, helped me a lot, and it's shown as my rookie year went by."

Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah played at Auburn, and he knew Burrow, who won the Heisman Trophy during a record-smashing senior season, would be a hit in the NFL.

"Watching him in college just torch every single defense in the SEC, like, when his name was announced, I was like that's a franchise quarterback right there," Uzomah said.

The high level of talent in the SEC isn't the only thing that prepares players for the pros. Earlier this year, Burrow downplayed the challenges of dealing with noise in NFL road games when he said he heard louder crowds during his SEC days.

"Being completely honest, you do," Uzomah said. "The stadiums are bigger, there are more people that are in there. (Auburn's) Jordan-Hare (Stadium) has like 87,000, the max is like 89,000 when we played Alabama my senior year. For sure that helps in terms of just knowing what to expect from an away stadium from a hostile environment."

Cincinnati rookie kicker Evan McPherson, the Fort Payne, Alabama, native who played at Florida, made the winning field goals in both a divisional round playoff game against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville and the AFC championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. He said the SEC experience of playing "obnoxiously loud games in the Swamp" helps a lot in the endeavor that every kicker takes on: trying to block out all noise.

He remembers his ears ringing after attending a game between Alabama and Mississippi State because of all the cowbells. One of the loudest games McPherson experienced came in LSU's Death Valley when Florida visited the Tigers at night during that championship season with Burrow and Chase — and approximately 107,000 fans. Kyle Field at Texas A&M also came to mind.

"Those games really helped a lot," McPherson said. "I texted Shayne Graham (who coached McPherson at Florida) after the game, and I'm like, 'Arrowhead's loud, but it's not near as loud as some of the stadiums I've played in in college have gotten."

SoFi Stadium, where both the Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers play home games, will have a capacity of 70,240 for Sunday's game. Cincinnati is technically the home team, even though the Rams are playing on the same field where they won the NFC title two weeks ago.

No matter how loud it gets, only one team will be cheering at the end. And no matter which team that is, the SEC will have something to celebrate.

Beckham figures it might as well be him and the Rams.

"Hopefully," he said, "we can pull it off."

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT