For the sixth year in a row, and the ninth time the past 12 seasons the South Carolina Gamecocks football program will be represented by one of its alums in the Super Bowl.
The New England Patriots won the AFC championship game Sunday, meaning a college football player who is a Gamecocks product will be in the NFL’s biggest game.
Patriots defensive back Stephon Gilmore advanced to Super Bowl LII in New England’s 24-20 victory. It is the first Super Bowl appearance for Gilmore, a corner back.
Gilmore’s pass deflection on a fourth-and-15 play late in the fourth quarter helped secure the victory for the Patriots, who are trying to win back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
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Gilmore finished the game with five tackles and two pass deflections. None were bigger than his final play of the game. He swatted a Blake Bortles pass away from Dede Westbrook, preventing a first down and possibly a touchdown. It put the ball back in the hands of Tom Brady and put the Patriots back in line to play in the Super Bowl.
Gilmore will face a former South Carolina teammate in the Super Bowl. Alshon Jeffery had two touchdown receptions in the Eagles’ win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game, setting up the Super Bowl LII showdown between Philadelphia and New England. It’s likely that Gilmore could end up covering Jeffery.
Jeffery and Gilmore spent plenty of time going head-to-head in Gamecocks practices from 2009-11.
A USC player would have advanced to the Super Bowl regardless of which team won the AFC championship. A.J. Cann played on the offensive line for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
This is the sixth year in a row a Gamecock has advanced to the Super Bowl. Last season, fullback Patrick DiMarco played on football’s biggest stage with the Atlanta Falcons. In 2016, defensive back Darian Stewart represented USC, playing for the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.
After playing college football for USC, offensive lineman Lemuel Jeanpierre appeared in back-to-back Super Bowls for the Seattle Seahawks in 2015 and 2014. Sidney Rice was a star receiver/kick returner for the Gamecocks and was teammates with Jeanpierre on Seattle’s Super Bowl winner in 2014.
Two Gamecocks were on opposite sides in the 2013 Super Bowl, and both were defensive backs. Emanuel Cook played for the victorious Baltimore Ravens while Chris Culliver suited up for the San Francisco 49ers.
Gilmore is the 24th Gamecock alum to advance to the Super Bowl in the 52-year history of the game. Cann and Gilmore and Jeffery were teammates at USC in 2011. That South Carolina team finished the season 11-2 and ranked No. 9 in the nation. It was the first 11-win season in Gamecocks history.
Gilmore signed a rich contract with the New England Patriots in the offseason, and had great expectations thrust upon him after the cornerback left the Buffalo Bills for the Super Bowl champions. But Gilmore struggled with injuries, consistency and picking up the schemes of Patriots coach and defensive wizard Bill Belichick.
But he has overcome much of that and played his best football down the stretch of the regular season and in the playoffs.
In 13 regular-season games, Gilmore had 50 tackles, two interceptions and nine pass deflections. In two playoff games, Gilmore has six tackles and four pass deflections.
The Rock Hill native left the Bills after five seasons and being selected to play in the 2016 Pro Bowl for the Patriots when he signed a five-year, $65 million contract, including an $18 million signing bonus.
Gilmore played for the Gamecocks from 2009-11. He started as a true freshman, and was named Freshman All-American. He was named first team All-SEC twice and third team All-American in 2011.
Gamecocks in the Super Bowl
1970, 1974, 1975, 1977
New York Giants
1987, 1988, 1990