Larry Izzo, no stranger to Super Bowls as a player thanks to his timely stint as a special teams superstar with the New England Patriots, is back in the NFL's multi-media championship spectacular in a new role as a coach and on the opposite sideline of his former team.
Izzo will be looking to collect a fourth Super Bowl ring, a total that no other Owl can match, but the purpose of this entry is to take a look back at the beginnings of the NFL's championship hunt and to take the best stab at determining the first Owl to play in the league's title tilt.
Research shows that Shirley Brick was the first Owl to play in the NFL. Brick, who lettered for Rice from 1915-17 and again in 1919, played one game for the Buffalo All Americans in 1920, the very first season of the fledgling National Football League. All that needs to be said about football at that time versus now is that Brick, all 5-8 and 165 pounds of him, was listed as a tight end.
Seaman Squyres (1933 Cincinnati Reds) and Ralph "Primo" Miller (Cleveland Rams 1937 & 38) were the next Owls to take the field in the league, but neither enjoyed great success. Squyres was on a Reds team that scored only a total of 48 points in 18 games the franchise existed (folding after 10 points and eight games in 1934). Miller was on the team that first brought the NFL to Cleveland, but found only limited success in his two years.
In the early days of the NFL, Curly Lambeau had assembled a powerhouse team in Green Bay. The Packers won the title from 1929-32 and again in 1936. In 1939, a former Rice end, Frank Steen, joined a team that featured the immortal Don Hutson. Steen was listed as a tight end, and shows credit for three games in a season that saw the Packers go on to defeat the New York Giants 27-0 to win Lambeau's sixth NFL title.
While there are no records of which three games Steen played in that season, he does appear in the official team photo and roster, thus we will anoint him as the first Rice Owl to become an NFL champion. If he was a member of the winning team, Steen pocketed the princely sum of $703.97 as a winner's share that year, which was his only year in the NFL.
The years immediately after World War II saw an infusion of Owls into the league. Some (Fred Hartman and Bill Blackburn) had been standouts in the early 1940's and moved on to the pro ranks after returning home from the war, while others (Weldon Humble, John Magee, Hamilton Nichols and Virgil Eikenberg) saw their college careers interrupted by the war, careers they were thankful to pick up after surviving the war.
Blackburn and Nichols became the first pair of Owls to play for an NFL champion, as the Chicago Cardinals defeated the Philadelphia Eagles. It marked the first NFL title appearance for both franchises, and it remains the only NFL title for the Cardinals franchise through the end of the 2011 season.
One year later Blackburn and Nichols were back on the field, facing the Eagles again and looking to repeat as NFL champions. But this time, there were two Owls on the opposing sideline as Magee was in the starting lineup and Hartman was a backup lineman.
The game was first NFL title game to be televised, but the new technology was certainly not prepared for the challenge that Mother Nature had in store. The Eagles prevailed 7-0 on a Steve Van Buren touchdown run in the last minute.
In the years since that landmark game, other Owls have been a part of NFL title celebrations, including Humble with the Cleveland Browns in 1950, Tobin Rote with the Detroit Lions in 1957, J.D. Smith with the Eagles in 1960, Frank Ryan with the Browns in 1964, Rodrigo Barnes with the Oakland Raiders in 1977, Earl Cooper in 1982 and 1985, Daryl Grant with Washington in 1983 and again in 1988, O.J. Brigance with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001 and Izzo's run of good fortune with the Patriots. Outside the NFL, Rote lead the San Diego Chargers to an AFL title in 1963, becoming the only quarterback to win championships in the rival leagues, while Orville Trask was a member of the Oilers when Houston captured the first two AFL titles (1960-61).