MIAMI, Fla. — There are three Auburn football players listed on the combined Super Bowl rosters of the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers, but only one will play in Super Bowl LIV — Dee Ford.
The defensive end was a focal point of a lot of talk during media day events at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel in downtown Miami after he has was on the Chiefs last year before a trade sent him to the west coast.
Ford will carry the flag for the his alma mater on Sunday, making it five years in a row Auburn has had at least one player in NFL’s biggest game.
“I do take a lot of pride in it,” said Ford during Thursday’s media day, the last day players talked with the media before kickoff on Sunday. “Anytime you get to this, the Super Bowl, it only helps the brand of Auburn, so … go War Eagle.”
He mentions he watches every Auburn game he can and was particularly happy after the Tigers beat Alabama this year in the Iron Bowl.
“Anytime we can get that ‘W’ it is great for us,” he said with a smile.
Ford isn’t the only former Tiger on the rosters, but he will be the only active player. Shon Lawrence, who played at Auburn from 2011-2015, is an offensive tackle for the 49ers, but is on the injured reserve. The Chiefs’ practice squad features defensive tackle Devaroe Lawrence, who played on the Plains from 2014-2016. He traveled with the Chiefs for the practices this week at Nova Southeastern University, but will be relegated to the press box for the game.
Ford said he has heard from Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, defensive line coach/associated head coach Rodney Garner and numerous former teammates since the 49ers beat the Packers to win the NFC Championship. Ford added he has a ‘family for life’ from his time at Auburn.
As he prepares for a showdown against the Chiefs, who drafted Ford in the first round in 2014, he recalls his days at Auburn.
The last time the 49ers played was on Jan. 19, a lengthy layoff.
“It’s been a long week and we have been preparing for a while; we are ready to go,” Ford said. “I’ve been there before with the national championship, it is kind of the same thing. You got to just approach each day like a new day.”
Twice in Ford’s time at Auburn, the team played for a national championship — against Oregon and Florida State.
He has spent the past two weeks watching film of plenty of old teammates that he shared a locker room. Ford downplayed the significance of it by saying ‘every year is a new year’ but said this matchup will be ‘different’ as he still has a lot of friends on the Chiefs still.
The Chiefs, though, gutted the defense after last year’s collapse in the AFC Championship and Ford was one of many stars that were shown the door. Justin Houston and Eric Berry were both released, while Ford was traded for a second-round draft pick.
The most memorable play from the AFC Championship came from Ford, but it wasn’t the type of impact he was hoping for. On a play which would have resulted in a game-sealing interception for the Chiefs and a Super Bowl trip, Ford was whistled for lining up offside. The Patriots used their second chance to beat the Chiefs in overtime then beat the Rams in the Super Bowl.
After battling health issues this season, Ford was a full participant in practice after being listed on the injury report last week with quadriceps and hamstring injuries.
Ford has played in 11 games this season and recorded six and a half sacks despite missing nearly all of three games in December with a hamstring injury. In his return for the NFC playoffs, he recorded a sack.
Ford’s presence on the field is key for the 49ers defense as the number shows the pressure on quarterbacks fell 8% without him there, while the sack rate for the team as a whole, fell, by 11% per game.
“Dee is a hell of an athlete and off the edge, he is one of the best in the game,” said teammate DeForest Buckner. “For the interior guys, he causes the quarterback to step up with the pressure. Dee is a great player. He is a Pro Bowl player, an All-Pro talent. When he is out there … he missed a majority of the season, but we tease him a lot that he has six and a half sacks and missed a lot of the season. His first game back, against the Vikings, he got a sack. When he is on the field he is a threat.”