You don’t have to look too hard to see all of the Nebraska ties in Super Bowl LV.
A trio of former Huskers—Lavonte David, Khalil Davis and Ndamukong Suh—are part of the Buccaneers’ roster. David has been with Tampa Bay the longest of the three, having been drafted by the Buccaneers in 2012.
“It’s an unreal moment,” David said during a virtual media session with reporters earlier in the week. “It took forever to get here, so I’m just trying to take it all in.”
They’ll be joined by two members of Tampa Bay’s staff—Chad Wade and Jason Licht—who also have a connection to Nebraska.
Wade, in his seventh season as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for Tampa Bay, previously spent 18 years at Nebraska coordinating workouts for the football team and acting as the assistant strength coach for the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Licht is the general manager for Tampa Bay. He started his collegiate career as a Nebraska offensive lineman before transferring to Nebraska Wesleyan University. Both grew up in Nebraska, too.
All of the Husker connections have Nebraska head coach Scott Frost rooting for the Bucs. In any other scenario, he might have rooted for Kansas City. Not this year, though.
Barrett Ruud, the Huskers’ inside linebackers coach and a previous Tampa Bay Buccaneer himself, feels the same.
“It’s Husker heavy,” Ruud told Hail Varsity. “It’s my former team in the NFL so it’s really, really cool to see all those guys representing Nebraska in the Super Bowl. I hope the whole state—and I know there are a lot of Chiefs fans here because it’s pretty regionally based so the non-Chiefs fans—is pulling hard for the Bucs because it’s pretty cool when you see your university that well represented.”
Ruud, who was a second-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, spent eight seasons in the NFL. Six of those were with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2005-10. While he didn’t get to finish his career in Tampa Bay—he signed with the Tennessee Titans in July of 2011—Ruud ended with an impressive professional career. Over those eight seasons, he recorded 658 tackles with six sacks, seven interceptions and six forced fumbles.
While he would have loved to end his career with the Buccaneers, Ruud has nothing but love for the city he called home for so long.
“I loved playing down in Tampa Bay, I loved living there, it was a great organization, great teammates,” Ruud said. “I think you’re always a little bit bitter when you don’t get re-signed or you don’t end up finishing your career at a certain spot, but I really, really enjoyed my time down there.
“I’m happy the city is getting to host the Super Bowl even though it’s going to be a little bit unique experience down there [with COVID-19 restrictions] but every year I got to play there, I really, really enjoyed it.”
Ruud never got to play in a Super Bowl though. Tampa Bay last won the whole thing with Super Bowl XXXVII in early 2003. He’ll tell you how special it is to be in the shoes of David, Suh and Davis. Of the three, Suh is the only one to have made it to the big game in his career. He was with the Los Angeles Rams when the team faced the New England Patriots for Super Bowl LIII in 2019.
For players like David and Davis, though? Ruud hopes they’re both just soaking it in, especially Davis as a rookie.
“I hope that [Davis is] soaking it all in and realizes how unique this year is because the majority of us don’t ever get a chance to go play on that stage,” Ruud said. “For Khalil to get in there as a rookie and play meaningful snaps, be on a team with Tom Brady and go to the Super Bowl? That’s really, really special. I hope he’s soaking it all in and really enjoying it because this is the type of thing that it doesn’t happen every year.
“I think as long as he’s enjoying the ride and really savoring it, I think he’s going to do great.”
With all of this said, don’t expect there not to be a little friendly competition between the coaches and players on Sunday. While most will root for Tampa Bay because of the Husker connections, there are still those loyal Kansas City fans. It won’t be cutthroat, of course, but it still makes the whole event a little more fun.
“I know Will Honas is a big Chiefs fan and Ryan Held’s a big Chiefs fan too,” Ruud said. “There’ll be a little bit of talking as we go through this week.”
Ruud admits he’s not a die-hard with any one rooted interest, but this is a unique year. With so many former Huskers playing for and working with Tampa Bay, it’s hard not to cheer for the Bucs.
By the way, Ruud considers the Husker connection to be six and not five. He includes Shaquil Barrett, who graduated from Boys Town (Neb.) High School and played for the Omaha football team for one season, among those with a Nebraska connection. Why not? It makes the celebration even more fun.
“This just happens to be a year where I got a bunch of former Huskers on my old team,” Ruud said. “It’s going to be cool to have a little bit more rooted interest than normal.”
Super Bowl LV is set for Sunday, Feb. 7, at 5:30 p.m. CT.
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.