PHOENIX – Super Bowl LVI will not feature the Arizona Cardinals or be played in Arizona, but the state will cast a small shadow over Sunday’s game between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.
Led by the AFC champion Bengals’ offensive line and run game coordinator, Frank Pollack, and the NFC champion Rams’ third-string quarterback Bryce Perkins, the teams have at least eight local connections.
Pollack, 54, a Maryland native, attended Greenway High School and Northern Arizona University, where he played offensive tackle from 1985-89. He returned to the school to coach the offensive line in 2005-06 and was inducted into NAU’s Hall of Fame in 2010.
“I grew up in Phoenix in the 70s and 80s, so to me it has always been this one freeway meandering through town,” Pollack said. “We had one pro sports team, the Suns, so I always kind of still view it that way, even though it’s not. It’s grown so much.”
Since Pollack left, professional sports in the Phoenix area have blossomed to include franchises in all four major mainstream sports – baseball, hockey, football and basketball – plus soccer and multiple freeways to connect them all. But in his heart, Pollack said, “I still kind of view it as this little sleepy southwest town that not really many people know about.”
Pollack has a summer home in Flagstaff and said he intends to return to the state when he retires.
“I’m the biggest cheerleader for the state of Arizona and the Phoenix area where I grew up, for sure,” he said.
In addition to Pollack, the Bengals’ local ties include: Renell Wren, a defensive tackle on the practice squad who attended Arizona State; another defensive tackle, Zach Kerr, who appeared in three games late in the season for the Cardinals in his second stint with the team; and Lamont Gaillard, a center on the practice squad who was drafted by the Cardinals in 2019 and cut by the Cardinals in this season’s training camp, after which he was acquired by Cincinnati.
The Rams’ Arizona connections start with their third-string quarterback Bryce Perkins, an Arizona native who starred at Chandler High, where he led the program to its first state title in 65 years and compiled 5,332 career yards passing. Perkins began his collegiate career at ASU before transferring to Arizona Western College and then to Virginia, where he became a starter.
The others are offensive lineman Coleman Shelton, who graced the Cardinals’ practice squad in 2018 and Eric Yarber, the Rams’ wide receivers coach who held the same position at ASU from 2007-09.
And then there is the Rams’ coach, Sean McVay, who unwittingly helped seed football in Arizona when he employed Jedd Fisch on his Rams staff in 2018 and 2019. Fisch worked as a senior offensive assistant in 2018 and assistant offensive coordinator in 2019.
He was with the Rams the last time they appeared in the Super Bowl, after the 2018 season when they lost to the New England Patriots. Fisch spent one season as the Patriots’ quarterbacks coach before being hired by the University of Arizona in December 2020.
When Fisch’s ties to the Rams came up in media interviews this week, McVay joked that he feels “too young to have a coaching tree.”
Young, maybe, but the roots are in place.