Pair of Bulls advance to Super Bowl XLVI
Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 04:01
On Feb. 5, the New York Giants and the New England Patriots will face off in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, Ind. About 989 miles away. in Tampa, there will likely be a new contingent of Giants fans.
For fans of the University of South Florida, the Giants were the playoff team to root for — thanks in large part to the presence of two former USF stars: second-year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and rookie linebacker Jacquian Williams.
Pierre-Paul is the more noticeable of the two, having introduced himself to the quarterbacks of the National
Football League (NFL) with 4.5 sacks, along with 60 tackles and two forced fumbles as a rookie. He then exceeded all expectations with 16.5 sacks, good for fourth-best in the NFL this year.
His former and current teammate Williams had an impressive debut season, with 78 tackles and one sack.
But Williams' claim to fame came Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
With 10 minutes remaining in overtime, Williams stripped 49ers return man Kyle Williams on a punt return, giving the Giants the ball at the San Francisco 24-yard line. Lawrence Tynes kicked the Giants into the Super Bowl five plays later.
USF linebacker Sam Barrington played with both Pierre-Paul and Williams and said he can hardly call himself an unbiased viewer.
"I was speechless at first (watching Williams force the overtime fumble)," he said. "Immediately after, I just felt happy. It was just like, ‘Wow.' I was awestruck. It's such a big play that he made that set those guys up for a dream type of football situation, being in the Super Bowl. I'm just definitely happy for him. I'm excited for him. It's exciting for him and (Pierre-Paul) and I just can't wait to watch the game. When he made that play, I felt like I made it myself — that's how happy I was for him."
The two were very close at USF, together anchoring a Bulls defense that gave up just 20 points per game in 2010. Yet, Barrington said he hasn't spoken to Williams since the start of the playoffs, letting him "focus on his business," but expects to catch up once the game is over.
"I have faith that the Giants are going to take it," he said.
Barrington said he has learned a lot from Pierre-Paul and Williams and their recent success on the largest of stages.
"I just learned to work hard and stay humble through everything," he said. "Everybody has their own stories of ups and downs and when life might not be going good, and everybody has stories of when life might be at its best, but through it all, just stay humble and work hard. If you really love something, then don't let anything stop you from getting to where it's at."
Pierre-Paul and Williams were not the only former Bulls involved in the NFC Championship game. Barrington and Bulls fans were also following the career of former head coach Jim Leavitt, who is the first-year linebackers coach in San Francisco.
"I felt for (Leavitt)," Barrington said. "First of all, I was happy for him that his defense made it to the highest point they made it this year, but I definitely felt for him. Coach Leavitt is a guy that's passionate about the game, but the other thing I know about him is that he's resilient, so he'll come back stronger next year."