The ties that bind the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens to New Orleans and the region are significant. Several players with backgrounds in New Orleans and south Louisiana are heading home for a week for Super Bowl XLVII.
The 49ers have five ties to the area.
Ricky Jean-Francois is in his fourth year with the 49ers. He was a prominent player on the LSU national championship team in the 2007 season for Les Miles, earning defensive most valuable player honors in LSU's 38-24 victory over Ohio State in the BCS title game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. he is returning to the scene of his greatest accomplishment in football, to date, to attempt to surpass that accomplishment on a higher level. He played for Les Miles at LSU from 2006-2008.
Francois overcame the odds of being a late round draft pick, selected in the seventh round with pick No. 244 by San Francisco in 2009. He hopes to do his now famous "Peanut Butter Jelly Dance" for 'Niners fans at the conclusion of what would be a victory of after a sack or tackle for loss in the Superdome.
Marques Colston can relate. The New Orleans Saints chose him with pick No. 252 in the seventh round in 2006. Both Colston and Francois have proven to be diamonds in the rough for their respective teams. Francois hopes to join Colston with owning a Super Bowl championship ring on February 3.
Former LSU star safety Greg Jackson is in his second season as secondary coach of the 49ers.
Jackson played for Bill Arnsparger and Mike Archer at LSU from 1985-1988, helping lead the Tigers to a 36-10-2 record over that span. With Jackson in tow, LSU won SEC championships in both 1986 and 1988. He was named first-team All-SEC in 1988.
While at LSU, Jackson was on LSU teams that played in the Superdome three times, going 2-1. The Tigers beat Tulane twice, 31-19 in 1985 and 41-36 in 1987 but lost to Nebraska 30-15 in what is now the Allstate Sugar Bowl in 1986. Additionally, Jackson played for the New Orleans Saints in 1996 and he served as the linebackers/kickoff team coach under Bob Toledo at Tulane in 2009, coaching several games in the Superdome so he is returning to a familiar building as well.
Jackson coached eight years on the college level before going to San Francisco, working at Wisconsin, Louisiana-Monroe, Idaho and Tulane. He played 12 years in the NFL for the New York Giants, Philadelphia, San Diego and New Orleans. In San Diego, Jackson was a teammate of 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh in 1999 and 2000, leading to the connection that brought him to San Francisco. The 'Dome will certainly look a lot different to Jackson than it did during Tulane games.
San Francisco defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was the linebackers coach of the New Orleans Saints under Jim Mora from 1986-1994. He presided over "The Dome Patrol," recognized as the greatest group of linebackers in NFL history (Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling, Sam Mills, Vaughan Johnson). With the Saints, Fangio was part of the first winning season in franchise history (1987) and with four playoff teams ('87, 1990, 1991, 1992).
The success of the 49ers defense is vindication for Fangio and for Mora. Fangio served as defensive coordinator under Mora with the Indianapolis Colts from 1999-2001. It was Mora's refusal to fire Fangio that was widely believed to be the reason that Mora's tenure in Indianapolis ended. Fangio had deep ties to Mora, working with him in the USFL with the Baltimore Stars in 1984. Fangio also served as the defensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans and served as a special assistant to the head coach and a linebackers coach with the Baltimore Ravens.
In 2010, Fangio accepted a position as defensive coordinator at Stanford under Harbaugh. When Harbaugh got the head coaching position in San Francisco, he took Fangio with him as his defensive coordinator.
Jonathan Goodwin is returning "home" as well. Goodwin was the starting center for the New Orleans Saints in their most memorable season ever in 2009, culminating with a Super Bowl victory. Goodwin was with the Saints from 2006-2009 and blossomed into a solid NFL starter in New Orleans. He has played very well for the 49ers and maintains many friends on the current Saints roster.
Goodwin started his career with the New York Jets after being drafted by New York in the fifth round of the 2002 draft. He played four seasons with the Jets before signing as a free agent with the Saints. He signed with the 49ers as an unrestricted free agent, essentially a cap casualty in New Orleans, following the Super Bowl win over the Colts. Clearly, he has wonderful, fond memories of the Superdome and he returned triumphantly earlier this season when the 49ers beat the Saints 31-21 on November 25.
Curtis Taylor was a seventh-round draft of San Francisco in 2009 out of LSU and Franklinton High School. He was with the 49ers until just before the start of the 2011 season, when he was released. He signed with the Oakland Raiders in January of 2012 before recently signing with the 49ers practice squad on December 26, just prior to their postseason run. He is still waiting for his opportunity to get on the field and show what he can do in a regular season game.
The Bogalusa native played at LSU under Les Miles from 2005-2008, playing in 50 games, and was a starter on the national championship team in 2007 when he replaced first-round pick LaRon Landry as a starting safety at LSU. He had five interceptions as a two-year starter for the Tigers. He was a star for Franklinton coach Shane Smith, playing safety, quarterback and wide receiver for the Demons. He caught 28 passes for 562 yards and six touchdowns as a senior at Franklinton.
Baltimore has three primary ties to these parts as well.
Former Nicholls State star Lardarius Webb enjoyed an outstanding career in Thibodaux after transferring to Nicholls State from Southern Miss in 2007. In his first game ever for the Colonels, he had three interceptions, returning one for a score against Rice. He became a first-team All-American (FCS) for the Colonels, even excelling at running back, when placed on offense. He was a third-round pick of the Ravens in 2009.
He has been an excellent player for the Ravens as both a defensive back and kick return specialist. Prior to the current season, he signed a 6-year extension with the Ravens. Unfortunately, Webb was hurt earlier in the season, tearing his ACL in week six against Dallas and was placed on injured reserve, out for the season. Still, the return to south Louisiana will be fun for Webb, who will no doubt have friends in the stands on February 3.
New Orleans native Jacoby Jones is coming home.
The Baltimore wide receiver grew up in New Orleans East and attended Abramson High School, where he was known for his skill in basketball and track and field, as opposed to football, which he also played. He went on to little-known Lane College but the NFL will find you if you can play. Jones can play. He was a third-round draft choice of the Houston Texans in 2007. He was released by the Texans on May 1, 2012. They did him a favor. A week later (May 8), he signed a two-year contract with Baltimore.
He has excelled for the Ravens. On October 14, Jones returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown in a win over the Cowboys, tying an NFL record for longest kick return. On November 11, he returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown in a win over the Oakland Raiders. On November 18, Jones returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown, helping the Ravens win that important division contest.
On December 26, 2012, Jones was named to his first Pro Bowl as a kick returner though he cannot participate with the Ravens in the Super Bowl and he subsequently earned All-Pro honors as a kick return specialist.
On January 12, Jones caught the improbable 70-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds left against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional Playoff game, sending the game to overtime, where the Ravens emerged victorious 38-35 to send them to the AFC championship game against the Patriots. You know the rest of the story.
Ed Reed is the most celebrated player coming home.
The former Destrehan High star was a star from the start. It was obvious when he was with the Wildcats. He went on to Miami and was superb, earning first-team All-American honors in 2001 and helping lead the Hurricanes to a national championship. He was a first-round draft pick of the Ravens in 2002 (No. 24 overall). He has proven to more than worth the investment to Baltimore.
As a pro, he was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2004. The eight-time All-Pro has been selected to nine Pro Bowls. He led the NFL in interceptions in 2004, 2008 and 2010. He has 61 career interceptions and 13 career touchdowns. Reed returns home frequently and has generously given back to Destrehan High School on a regular basis. Reed is clearly worthy of induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame when his brilliant career ends. With a Super Bowl victory, his place in that shrine would be cemented.
The ties that bind to New Orleans, south Louisiana, the New Orleans Saints and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome are significant heading into the big game. One side of the ties will leave triumphant while the other will have enjoyed their return home, at least until game day.
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