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MIAMI – Dee Ford is a large, wide man with a voice so soft you can barely hear and somehow he finds himself smack in the middle of a rather loud Super Bowl circumstance he finds somewhat uncomfortable.
Last year, he was a Kansas City Chiefs stalwart. A pass rusher tagged with the “franchise” label.
This year, he’s a big-timer with the San Francisco 49ers, with a brand new $87 million contract.
Last year, he was the reason, almost singular, why the Chiefs didn’t go to the Super Bowl.
And one year later, he has to answer for what went wrong.
“It was inexcusable,” Ford whispered – or maybe that’s the tone with which he normally speaks. I couldn’t hear what he was saying when surrounded by reporters. Fortunately, my tape recorder picked up what I couldn’t make out.
“But don’t we all do it?” said Ford. “I had to let it go in order to move forward. That’s the way it’s been.”
There was just over a minute to play in last year’s AFC Final game and the Chiefs were leading Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots when Brady threw what looked to be a game losing interception. Charvarius Ward caught Brady’s pass and the Chiefs looked to be few clicks of the clock away from going to the Super Bowl.
Except that Ford had lined up offside. He hadn’t jumped the count. He hadn’t misread the play. On the biggest play of his life and before this year the biggest Chiefs play in decades, he was ready to rush Brady, with his hand lined up offside as the ball was snapped.
Easily, the play was flagged, the interception didn’t count and the Patriots went on to win the game in overtime on their way to Brady’s sixth Super Bowl.
Patrick Mahomes was the NFL’s MVP in his first full season playing quarterback in Kansas City. He should have been in the Super Bowl too. One year later he’s there – and maybe the oddest aspect of this game is that he’s playing against Dee Ford, once a first round pick of the Chiefs.
When the Chiefs made the difficult decision to trade Ford, partly because of contract talks, partly because of changing their defence this year from 3-4 to 4-3 and partly because – and nobody says this – what happened in the AFC title game, the last place they’d figured they see Ford lining up was against them in the Super Bowl.
They sent him out of the conference, to San Francisco, winners of four games last year. It wasn’t like anybody was saying they were going to have to worry about Ford now.
But they have to worry about him on Sunday.
Because when he’s not offside, he still an elite pass rusher, maybe the most underrated of significant positions in football.
“He’s a good football player,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said at his daily Super Bowl press conference. “We got him in the first round. He was very productive for us. He’s done a nice job for them, not that they needed a lot of help on their defensive front.
“They’re really good there, but he’s been a nice addition for them. There are not a lot of pass rushers better than Dee in the National Football League.”
But he’s not best known for any sack or rush he’s made. He’s best known for the penalty that changed the AFC title game and sent Brady on to win his sixth Super Bowl. The Chiefs are hoping to win their second Super Bowl on Sunday. The first one came in the fourth of all Super Bowls; Len Dawson was the quarterback and MVP. Otis Taylor, not in the Hall of Fame, caught a long touchdown pass for the winning score.
The last 50 years – a lot of remembering of Dawson’s career and Taylor’s touchdown and before this game, Ford’s penalty.
Chiefs outspoken linebacker Frank Clark has called the penalty inexcusable.
“I just know he had lined up offside and anybody who lines up offside at a time like that, I feel like that’s a dumb penalty at the end of the day.
“I’m sure he feels the same way. Personally, I’ve lined up offside before, but not in that type of situation. That’s just something that shouldn’t happen.”
Ford has shared Clark’s term and called the penalty inexcusable himself. But not a lifetime sentence of any kind. The Chiefs aren’t his team anymore. He felt bad about what happened and says “don’t we all do it? I’ve had to let it go in order to move forward. That’s the way it’s been. It was hard (on me) for a brief period of time but you have to get over it. You have to have a short memory. That’s sports. I had a sloppy play.”
And now comes Super Bowl Sunday. It’s not Ford vs. Ferrari. It’s Ford vs. the Chiefs.
“It’s going to be different, it’s going to be fun,” he said. And all he has to do, for starters, is stay on side.
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