By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports
A year ago this week, Webster Parish was in Super Bowl ecstasy. Two native sons, Minden High’s L’Jarius Sneed and North Webster High’s Devin White, were preparing to square off for the NFL championship in Super Bowl LV.
White led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with 12 tackles in their shocking 31-9 demolition of Sneed’s Kansas City Chiefs, the defending champion.
The two-week buildup to the game was filled with local pride and joy. Webster Parish couldn’t ask for two finer representatives on the National Football League’s biggest stage – both key defensive starters for their conference championship teams.
Neither the Bucs or the Chiefs are back in this year’s Super Bowl. Sneed and White will join the rest of us watching Sunday evening’s showdown between the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Francisco 49ers.
But there’s still local rooting interests for the upcoming matchup of surprise teams.
And it’s not just waiting to see if you’ve drawn the lucky squares, or if you’ve placed winning wagers on one of Louisiana’s recently-launched sports betting platforms.
There’s reason to cheer for both sides Sunday.
Cincinnati has become the Bayou Bengals this season, led by second-year sensation Joe Burrow and rookie Ja’marr Chase. That passing combination was pivotal to the 2019 LSU Tigers steamrolling the competition on the way to a perfect, record-shattering season culminating in the BCS National Championship.
Burrow, who grew up in Ohio not far from Cincy, earned the eternal adoration of Tiger fans and just anyone Louisiana-proud with his Heisman Trophy senior season. When he walked out through the goalposts onto the field at Tiger Stadium on Senior Night wearing a custom “Burreaux” Number 9 jersey, he got a virtual statewide standing ovation.
In his injury-shortened rookie season, there was an undercurrent of Bayou State support for him and the NFL Bengals. When Cincinnati used its top 2021 draft pick on Chase, and the Bengals began collecting wins while Joe and Ja’marr piled up passing yardage, statewide fan interest increased in the Queen City’s NFL team.
As Cincinnati surged through the AFC playoffs, the Saints never made it in, and the Cowboys didn’t stay very long. That added to the Bengals’ appeal in these parts.
So, too, does the story of Trent Taylor, a Cincinnati receiver and returner who played at Shreveport’s Evangel High School and east of here at Louisiana Tech. Calvary Baptist product Brandon Wilson, a safety and kick returner, is on the Bengals roster but won’t play Sunday due to a season-ending injury.
There’s reason to root for the Rams, too. A pair of LA players hail from I-20. Shreveport-Fair Park’s Robert Rochell got hurt in December but the defensive back has a slight chance to return to action Sunday. West Monroe’s Andrew Whitworth is the NFL’s oldest remaining player (40), a four-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle. In a neat twist, the former LSU Tiger played 11 seasons in Cincinnati before heading to the West Coast in 2017.
If that don’t impress you much, well, there’s the high dollar commercials, and the high-octane halftime show, the first rap-based Super Bowl showcase.
But the Louisiana flavor in the game makes this one spicy for state sports fans.
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