Super Bowl gets even more local

Published 5:40 pm Monday, January 23, 2017

Elandon Roberts’ hopes of reaching a Super Bowl were as bright as the day the New England Patriots drafted him.

He could be seen standing outside his home in Port Arthur on a sunny late April day with his mother Stephanie fielding a congratulatory call after the Patriots picked him up in the sixth round of the draft. Of course, there was the matter of actually making the team, but Roberts passed that test with flying colors, playing in 16 games including the postseason.

His next game will be the biggest of his life.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

And Jonathan Babineaux’s. And Matt Bryant’s.

Super Bowl LI (51) in Houston on Feb. 5 appropriately will include four Southeast Texans, two of them from Port Arthur. And for each of them, it’s their first time in the Big Game.

Sunday afternoon, Port Arthur’s Babineaux and Bridge City’s Bryant helped the Atlanta Falcons beat the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the final game at the Georgia Dome. Also on that roster is linebacker Sean Weatherspoon of Jasper.

Later that evening, Roberts played a part in the Patriots’ 36-17 drubbing of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Patriots mare making a record ninth Super Bowl appearance, having won four times (in the 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2014 seasons).

That’s nine reasons to believe Roberts’ Super Bowl hopes were bright. But neither he nor the Patriots took the six-time world champion Steelers lightly, as he was tasked with containing Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell.

“I see a lot of running backs stop-go-stop-go,” Roberts said on video before the game about Bell’s running style. “They’ve got to find somewhere to go. As a running back, that’s their job. So, our defense, we’ve been practicing. The scout team has been giving great looks of Pittsburgh, and all we can do is practice hard because it starts in practice.”

Roberts recorded two solo tackles Sunday. He could be seen showing plenty of excitement late in the first half.

Bell, battling a groin injury, was limited to 20 yards on five carries.

After a Steelers pass initially ruled a touchdown was placed at the Patriots’ 1 after review, Roberts appeared psyched up after DeAngelo Williams was stopped for a loss on first down. Pittsburgh was forced to kick a field goal that made the score 17-9 instead of potentially being 17-14 with a two-point conversion.

Pats coach Bill Belichick talked about Roberts’ rookie contributions and that of defensive tackle Vincent Valentine just days before the AFC championship game.

“They don’t miss much time. They’re on the field. They’ve been out there a lot and practice hard and get better, so that’s a good formula,” Belichick told The Sun-Chronicle of North Attleboro, Mass. “Both are really unselfish, do whatever you ask them to do, try to do it the best they can, so good to work with.”

While Roberts made the Super Bowl on his first try, it took Babineaux and Bryant a few years to make it.

Babineaux, who graduated from Lincoln High in 2000, has spent his entire 12-year career with the Falcons and come within a game of the Super Bowl one other time, in the 2012 season when the San Francisco 49ers came from 17-0 down to win 28-24 and make the big game in New Orleans.

The bad feeling of that, he said, is something he always remember.

The Iowa graduate did not record any statistics Sunday. But he’s ever so close to the mountaintop of the NFL, now.

“The opportunity we did have a few years ago, we weren’t able to cash in on the Super Bowl,” Babineaux said in a Falcons audio file. “[The citizens of Atlanta] are very into it and have bought into what coach [Dan] Quinn has brought to the city and this organization. Everybody has bought in.

Babineaux added it would mean “a lot” after 12 seasons to play in the Super Bowl. He told The News in July he felt he had at least two more seasons left under his belt to make the Super Bowl.

Bryant, 41, is oldest player on the Falcons. The 1994 Bridge City graduate was originally signed by the New York Giants as a free agent in 2002 but allocated to the former NFL development league in Europe. He spent four games in 2004 with the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed him as a free agent in March 2005.

Following his release from the Bucs in September 2009, he competed in the now-defunct United Football League before the Falcons landed him the following December.

Bryant has become one of the Falcons’ most decorated players since. Two months ago, he set a franchise record for field goals made, a mark that now stands at 329 (counting only regular-season games).

His 59-yard field goal against the Kansas City Chiefs — sans another Port Arthur native, Jamaal Charles — just made it over the crossbar and tied the franchise record for longest ever (Morten Anderson vs. San Francisco on Dec. 24, 1995).

Not bad for someone who reportedly worked in a pawn shop and as a personal trainer out of Baylor.

Port Arthur can now claim 10 participants (nine players and coach Jimmy Johnson) from its school district who have played for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Babineaux’s brother Jordan was the most recent, having played for the Seattle Seahawks as a safety in a 21-10 loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl 40 (2005 season).

Port Arthur Mayor Derrick Freeman has taken notice of his city’s latest football accomplishment and said on Instagram Monday he is planning a city-wide watch party.

“… I can confirm we are working on the venue and sponsors as you read this. Announcement coming soon! #PAproud,” Freeman posted.

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews


About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

email author More by I.C.