SAN FRANCISCO — Back in 1981, late great defensive lineman John Matuszak was famously fined $1,000 by Oakland Raiders coach Tom Flores for an infamous night of partying in New Orleans two days before Super Bowl 15.
San Francisco 49ers offensive guard Daniel Kilgore has been to New Orleans before, site of this year’s Super Bowl. While he admits NOLA is an interesting town, Kilgore is one Bay Area behemoth who likely won’t be dodging any curfews during this week’s visit.
“It’s easy to get distracted there. It’s a great place for food and stuff. But this is a business trip for me,” said the 6-foot-3, 308-pound Dobyns-Bennett alumnus. “Right now, we’ve got one job to do. We need to take care of business and win a Lombardi Trophy.”
The 49ers square off with the Baltimore Ravens in the Superdome next Sunday.
Now on the verge of concluding his second season in the NFL, the Kingsport native has zero difficulty wrapping his mind around the momentous opportunity unfolding before him. There is simply no bigger game in football than the Super Bowl. God willing, next Sunday he’ll be playing in it.
“I’ve been playing football since I was 6 years old. And now football is my job. I get paid for it. That’s the best thing. Obviously, you’ve got to love the game to do it,” said Kilgore, who through the years has played at center, guard, tackle — even a stint as a blocking tight end during Appalachian State’s 2007 NCAA Division I FCS national championship run.
“I am very, very blessed to be a part of this. It has always been one of my dreams to play in the Super Bowl. Dreams do come true,” said Kilgore, who helped lead D-B to a 9-1 regular-season finish under coach Graham Clark in 2005.
Far from being couched in clouds, Kilgore’s dreams remain grounded in the hard realities that comprise the NFL. In comparison, his time at nationally ranked Appalachian State was “much more relaxed,” he said. In those days he enjoyed much more free time. That held true even during the pressure-fraught postseason, he said.
Not so today.
“We do have this week off as far as no game. But we’ve been approaching everything as if we were going to play this weekend,” Kilgore said. “We’re really focusing on this.
Once we get down to New Orleans, we’ll be really comfortable with what we’ve been practicing. It won’t be anything new for us.”
During the tightly managed frenzy that is Super Bowl week, Kilgore will get to sample a little of the local cuisine.
He admits that aside from football itself, one of his favorite NFL perks is the opportunity to travel and experience firsthand what different cities have to offer.
For a kid who grew up in Kingsport and went to college in relatively sleepy Boone, N.C., becoming a San Francisco resident has been an experience in itself.
“It was a much bigger adjustment last year than it was this year,” Kilgore said. “This is a different culture. California has everything that you could imagine. It is so diverse. One day you can go surfing and two hours later you can be in the mountains, snowboarding.”
All that might have been distracting in itself if not for Kilgore’s acute awareness that he is playing for one of the most storied franchises in NFL history. The Gold Rush has won five Super Bowl titles — 1981, 1984, 1988, 1989 and 1994.
The San Francisco fans are thirsty for another. Whether Kilgore is lining up in a three-point stance, serving on special teams duty or called into action as a backup long snapper, he is dedicated to giving his all to achieving that end.
“With all the history here, it’s very much an honor to be a part of this. I never want to take this for granted,” he said. “I want to use every opportunity I’ve got to become part of it from here on out.”
In the meantime, he’s been soaking it all up. Playing at historic Candlestick Park in front of the rowdy and enthusiastic San Francisco fans has evoked excitement like no other in his career, he said.
His public stature as an NFL player pays other dividends, enabling equally memorable moments away from the stadiums.
After the 49ers’ regular-season win over the New England Patriots in December, for example, Kilgore flew back to California with his teammates to visit UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. There, the biggest and strongest athletes in San Francisco inspired and were inspired by some of the Niners’ tiniest fans.
“The 49ers do a great job finding good ways for players to donate their off time to the community,” Kilgore said.
Kilgore is poised to become one of only two Appalachian State alumni to appear in the Super Bowl. He was one of three D-B gridiron alumni who played in the NFL this past season — joining safety Gerald Sensabaugh of the Dallas Cowboys and cornerback Coty Sensabaugh of the Tennessee Titans.
That is certainly a testimony to the local talent pool, but it’s also indicative of the foundations laid by the Tribe gridiron program.
“I’m very proud of coming from Northeast Tennessee and Dobyns-Bennett. I received unbelievable support from the coaching staff and the community there. And I still do,” Kilgore said.
“I have fun (in California), but I always look forward to the offseason, when I can hang out with my family and the friends I grew up with.”