PHOENIX, Ariz. _ Even in the swirl of Super Bowl Opening Night, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo wanted to tell you what he said to Joe Burrow after he finally got the Bengals quarterback on his fourth try in last week's AFC title game.
"I told him after the game, 'I have so much respect for you,'" Spagnuolo recalled of the walk to the middle of Arrowhead Stadium after the Chiefs won a trip here on a last-snap field goal. "I'm an old high school quarterback and I think he's terrific the way he operates and plays the game."
The man they call "Spags," took snaps at Massachusetts' Grafton High School before he came back 30 years later to break the Bay State's heart when he engineered the Giants' upset of Tom Brady's undefeated Patriots in another Arizona Super Bowl as New York's defensive coordinator. In his 16th season as a DC or head coach in the league, Spagnuolo is a tenured professor in the art of 21st century offense.
"I've said this before. I see a young Tom Brady," Spagnuolo said in his Burrow recitation. "Not just his talent, but I love his killer instinct. He's a killer and when your quarterback is like that, the other ten around him are like that. It makes the whole offense that much tougher. I have a great deal of respect for him."
Like Bengals head coach Zac Taylor, Spagnuolo also watches the television broadcasts of his foes to get any edge. That's where he says the cameras offer a glimpse into Burrow's icy heart.
"I don't know if it's the gleam in his eye or the things he says. You hear him sometimes," Spagnuolo said. "But I watch him. We're always looking at the (game) broadcasts. The way the TV and the cameras zoom in, you see him pre snap with his eyes and what he's looking at. Even after a play, nothing bothers him. Like he never gets rattled."
He told the disappointed Burrow amid the din that there would be many more games and moments.
"I look forward to watching him play even as a fan," Spagnuolo said. "I think he's terrific."
SUPER ENDORSEMENT: How great would it have been for the Bengals to be out here with the announcement of this year's Pro Football Hall of Fame class set for Thursday night (9-Cincinnati's Channel 5) at NFL Honors? On the 25th anniversary of Bengals left tackle Anthony Munoz's induction, two Ring of Honor Bengals are in the finals. The late Ken Riley, whose 65 interceptions are the most by a pure cornerback with one team, is one of three senior candidates. Willie Anderson, the only right tackle to make three straight All-Pro teams in the last four decades, is one of 15 modern era finalists.
Anderson got an endorsement out here from Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, the former Bengals running back whose four years in Cincinnati coincided with Anderson's first three.
"Of course he is," Bieniemy said of Anderson's Hall pedigree. "First of all, he played at a high level his whole entire career. He played against some dominant players and he did a heck of job of keeping the quarterback upright and in that time, too, he also blocked for some dominating runners."
PAT ANSWER: Bieniemy says Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes' frustrating second half and overtime in last year's AFC title game loss to the Bengals spurred what many think is going to be his NFL MVP announced on Thursday night. Asked if that 27-24 OT loss to Cincy was a turning point for Mahomes, Bieniemy said it was.
"You have to understand, Patrick will always be a competitor and that's who he is. When it's all said and done, what doesn't kill you is going to make you stronger," Bieniemy said. "After going through that experience, he's worked his tail off this entire offseason. But on top of that, he wants to be a better teammate but also by being accountable and helping those guys around him to play better. If anything, it's helped him grow. It's just a sign of maturity. You have to understand, as great as he is as a quarterback, he's still a young kid in this game. He's still learning the nuances of the game."
Because he's in his third Super Bowl, it seems like Mahomes has been around forever and a day. But he didn't turn 27 until the second week of this season.
CARLOS' SUPER SHOT: After 13 seasons, 197 games and 100 sacks, most of them with the Bengals, old friend Carlos Dunlap waved to a Super Bowl Opening Night crowd as a rotational pass rusher on a Chiefs defensive line hoping to match the Eagles' NFL record-setting pressure.
"Phenomenal. A lot of lights. A lot of people. Time served. I earned my right and I look forward to finishing this thing off," Dunlap said. "Being in the present, taking it all in. It took me a long tine to get here. This week's already flying by fast."
Dunlap, traded by the Bengals in the middle his 11th season with the club in 2020, said it was "sweet," that he won his first conference championship against Cincy. But he's not dwelling on it, recalling if he couldn't get here last year he was glad the Bengals did.
"The Bengals organization is huge chapter in my book," Dunlap said. "Mr. (Mike) Brown. The Blackburn family. (Director of Ops) Jeff Brickner. If my team (Seattle) wasn't going, I was excited for the organization. It's new day over there, you know that."
Like Spagnuolo, Dunlap offered some kind words on his old teammate Burrow.
"He's the future of the NFL. Next to Pat Mahomes, who else?" Dunlap said. "Future is his."
As he looked around at the glitz and hype and all things Super Bowl, he was asked who was the most famous person he'd seen since he'd been here.
"Pat Mahomes," he said.
When the Bengals took Dunlap in the second round of the 2010 draft, he was coming off a national championship at Florida. A ring, he says, he hasn't worn since.
"I'm waiting to get a Super Bowl ring," he said. "That would be a nice little pair to go together."
DUNLAP ON A.J.: Monday's retirement of former Bengals great A.J. Green coincided with the first day of Super Bowl festivities and Dunlap was surprised it wasn't the first question fired at him from Bengals.com. They were high school rivals in South Carolina and college foes in the SEC before becoming NFL teammates for a decade.
"When we drafted him in Cincy, I couldn't have been more excited because I know exactly what kind of player he was and I think he exceeded everyone's expectations," said Dunlap, recalling Green's leadership of a perennial playoff team by presence. "Just the way he went about his work. He didn't talk about it, he just executed better than anyone … One of the great ones. Great career. Phenomenal leader, father, athlete."
NARRATIVE NEGATED: Eagles edge rusher Haason Reddick, the New Jersey kid and former first-round pick who came back to help lead his hometown team to the Super Bowl with 16 sacks on his third NFL stop, is good friends with Bengals cornerback Eli Apple. And they have more than Jersey high school football in common. This week Reddick recalled how they not only played against each other and have worked out together, but how their paths in the pros have been remarkably similar.
After the Cards took Reddick in the 2017 first round out of Philly's Temple University, he struggled to find a home after getting 7.5 sacks in his first three seasons. Like Apple, a 2016 first-rounder out of Ohio State who bounced around his first five seasons before starting the last two seasons for the Bengals.
"Same thing with him," Reddick said. "He overcame the obstacles and changed the narrative, trying to change what people think about him. We're kind of in the same space. I love the fact he's balling and proving the haters and the doubters wrong."