The Tar Heel State doesn’t have a team in the Super Bowl this year, but it does have North Carolina players on both teams to root for.
Starting offensive guard Joe Thuney and reserve quarterback Jacoby Brissett will both suit up for the New England Patriots on Super Bowl Sunday. The two rookies earned their degrees from N.C. State before each were drafted in the third round by the team in 2016.
Thuney, whose NFL bio said he attended high school in Kettering, Ohio, played a variety of offensive line positions during his tenure with the Wolfpack. On Sunday, after being on the field for the most snaps during the regular season, the Patriots will start Thuney at left guard.
Thuney was the first N.C. State offensive lineman to be drafted in the first three rounds since Chris Colmer in 2005.
Brissett, a third-string quarterback behind starter Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo, saw action during the early part of the 2016-2017 season while Brady was serving a four-game suspension and Garoppolo was sidelined with a shoulder injury.
The Florida native led the team to a decisive shutout victory over the Houston Texans, the first Patriots shutout since 2012, according to Associated Press reports.
The Atlanta Falcons, the Patriots’ opponent Sunday, have wide receiver Justin Hardy, of East Carolina University, and cornerback Deji Olatoye of North Carolina A&T.
Hardy, who grew up in the town of Vanceboro, is the Falcons’ No. 4 receiver and a member of the special teams. He is expected to play a role on Sunday; quarterback Matt Ryan is known to target a variety of receivers during games.
Hardy caught 21 passes during the regular season, and four went for touchdowns.
Olatoye, who also hails from the Buckeye State, spent his first two seasons at the University of Colorado, but made a big impact at A&T. He went undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft, but signed with the Baltimore Ravens before being waived and signed to the practice squad.
He moved through the practice squads of the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys and Falcons, before being promoted to the active Falcons roster in November.
Including those four, North Carolina universities have had 124 players in the biggest game of the year: UNC, with 36; N.C. State, 28; ECU, 19; Wake Forest, 16; Duke, 14; N.C. A&T, 4; Appalachian State, 2; N.C. Central, 2; Elizabeth City State, 2; and St. Augustine’s, 1.
North Carolina also has its share of players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Bobby Bell of Shelby; Carl Eller, Winston-Salem; Joe Gibbs, Mocksville; Chris Hanburger, Fort Bragg; Sonny Jurgensen, Wilmington; Bruce Matthews, Raleigh; Charlie Sanders, Richlands; Dwight Stephenson, Murfreesboro.
Members of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame also have made Super Bowl appearances are Sonny Jurgensen, Wilmington (Washington); Jethro Pugh, Windsor (Dallas); Carl Eller, Winston-Salem (Minnesota); Dwight Clark, Kinston (San Francisco); Bob Matheson, Boone (Miami); Jim Ritcher, Berea, Ohio (Buffalo); Jim Clack, Rocky Mount (Pittsburgh); Ken Huff, Coronada, Calif. (Washington); Ricky Proehl, Bronx, N.Y. (Buffalo); Kelvin Bryant, Tarboro (Washington); Jeff Bostic, Greensboro (Washington); Jerry Richardson (owner, Carolina Panthers).
They won’t take the field for Super Bowl LI, but the Carolina Panthers have been to the Super Bowl twice. The first time was Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004 when the Panthers lost to the New England Patriots 32-29, the same Super Bowl that gave viewers Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at halftime.
The Panthers returned for Super Bowl 50, where they lost 24-10 to the Denver Broncos.
Food and drinks
North Carolina’s favorite Super Bowl snack is – unsurprisingly – buffalo wings. Google data show that it’s the most-searched-for recipe for game day among North Carolinians.
For a local twist, the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services recommends a strawberry chipotle chicken wings recipe.
Chicken wings often are appropriately paired with beer, and North Carolina has its share of local brews to accompany them.
North Carolina has more than 180 microbreweries, according to the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild.