It’s February 3, 2002, the night of the Super Bowl between the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots. As many fans around the country and media are talking about “The Greatest Show on Turf” in the Rams’ offense and the star-studded, hard-hitting Patriots’ defense, one small town was rooting for one specific player.
Jeff Wilkins originally from Austintown, Ohio where he went to Fitch High School and Youngstown State University for college. Wilkins was the starting kicker for the Rams from 1997 all the way until 2007 when he retired that offseason. During his career in St. Louis he completed an astounding 81.9% of his kicks, scored 1,416 points (1st player in team history to reach 1,000), and was vital in the Rams 2000 Super Bowl win making three of four field goals in a 23-16 win over the Tennessee Titans. Needless to say, the city of Youngstown was hoping and praying the Rams would win and he would be the deciding factor again.
(Photo Courtesy of Ramblin’ Fan)
Instead, the Patriots would go on to win that Super Bowl 20-17 in a game where Wilkins drained a memorable 50-yard field goal in the first quarter giving the Rams their only lead they would have that game.
Fast forward now 17 years, the Patriots have captured four Super Bowls since then and the hatred for them has grown so rapidly throughout the country. No one has hurt worse than the Cleveland Browns fans, who Bill Belichick coached before being fired in 1995, and most of all the fans who watched them start their dynasty against a local legend. Now the Patriots are about to embark on their 9th Super Bowl in 19 years against “The Greatest Show on Grass”. It’s easy for people in Youngstown to root against the Patriots until they signed one of the very few people who could make the Patriots lovable in that city.
(Photo Courtesy of Chronicle-Telegram)
When it comes to local legends there’s none that compare to John Simon. Luckily, for me, I was blessed to watch him from start to right now. Growing up I always wanted to be an NFL football player, but I never had what it took to be one and that’s the dedication to put all your time and effort into it. My biggest flaw was Simon’s biggest strength. My friends who are Patriots fans asked me when they signed him my thoughts and it was simple, “His work ethic is second to none, you knew he was going to the NFL from the time you watched him play football, never seen a human being like it”. When men at the level of Urban Meyer praise you and say things like this.
You know you’re in an elite class.
Heavily regarded as one of the strongest men in the NCAA and now the NFL. John Simon is a man amongst boys no matter what setting he is in.
In an area that has produced many great football players such as; Wilkins, Mike Zordich, Corey Linsley, Bernie Kosar, Billy Price, and so many more, John Simon ranks supreme in conversation with everyone in that list. He attended Cardinal Mooney where he was every offensive linemen’s nightmare and went on to The Ohio State University. For the Buckeyes, he had 154 tackles and 20.5 sacks during his four-year tenure at OSU. Simon was also Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 and two-time First Team All-Big Ten in 2011 and 2012.
In the 2013 draft, John Simon was selected in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens and that’s where his NFL journey would begin. In 2014 he went onto to play for the Houston Texans for two years and then after2016 he signed a three-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts, his most memorable moment with the Colts was the 26-yard interception he returned for a touchdown against the Titans. Many fans were shocked when the Colts released Simon earlier this football season, but that might have been a huge blessing in disguise.
(Photo Courtesy of Zimbio)
Simon’s journey ended up in New England on September 26, 2018, where he is now going into his first ever Super Bowl appearance led by the greatest coach and quarterback of our time. In the 11 games Simon has played in for the Patriots he has recorded 8 tackles, and assisted on 9 tackles, has two TFL (tackle for loss).
In this rematch from that 2002 Super Bowl, the city of Youngstown has a reason to root for the Patriots and the only reason being, John Simon. Go get a ring and congrats on the second baby. Youngstown is behind you.