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Column: Underdog no more
Paula Joseph.jpg
Paula Joseph

Sadly, I wanted to ignore the call from my son.

I wondered why in the world was he calling me during the last 20 seconds of this incredible NFL playoff game; surely he knew I was watching this game. The phone kept ringing, and of course, I answered. He did, in fact, know what I was doing, as this was the exact reason for his call.

“Mom, I had to call,” he said, “because I knew you were watching this game, and I wanted to listen to the end with you.”

An exciting end it was. How great it is to share the love of football with others in all that it brings -- the competition, the highs, the lows, the players, the fans, the rivalries, the thrill of victory. Anyone who follows the NFL can agree this year’s playoff games were some of the best we’ve ever witnessed; the kind of football where fans wake up on Monday questioning the ridiculous outcomes.

The precursor to the Big Game featured an unprecedented stint of walk-off endings resulting in two No. 4 seeds meeting for the ultimate prize. And with my team already out, I would need another to chase these last three weeks of the season, you know, a stand-in to get behind. Notice I said “stand-in,” not “replacement.” Besides, having some skin in the game always makes it more interesting. The underdog it would be: Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals.

By underdog, I mean Cincinnati wasn’t expected to win their division, let alone make it to the Big Game. After upsetting Kansas City in an overtime thriller in the AFC Championship, the Bengals are now headed to the Super Bowl for the first time in more than three decades.

Joe Burrow led his team once again for the win after trailing by 18, a comeback for the books. No team in NFL history has overcome a halftime deficit of 10-plus  points to win in multiple games against the same opponent in a single season including playoffs. The Bengals trailed Kansas City by 11 at halftime in Week 17 (won 34-31) and trailed by 11 at halftime in the AFC Championship.

A former LSU star, Burrow will become the first quarterback in league history drafted No. 1 overall to start a Super Bowl in his second season. After experiencing the highs of winning a National Championship, the Heisman winner and No. 1 draft spot, Burrow suffered a season-ending injury in his first year at Cincinnati.

It is simply a story where movies are made and underdog personas are crushed. It is why we love the game of football, whether you’re a fan of college football or the pros. It is the game’s unrivaled ability to bring people together that brings us back every year. It is our country’s most popular sport that unifies people in the toughest of rivalries.

Even in all our diverse views, we find ourselves coming together time and time again in our team’s big win. It’s the moment we feel connected to a perfect stranger who is wearing our team’s jersey. It is a brief moment we can disconnect from the mundane. It is the feeling we get walking in to a stadium and standing for the National Anthem. It is a game we share with family and friends and all the tradition it brings.

And with the onset of each fall, we will know one thing: it’s football season … again!

(Paula Joseph is a Camden resident and a contributing columnist to the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C.)