This year marks a significant milestone in Utah sports, as several former BYU, Utah and Utah State players -- even one from SUU -- appear in the 2014 NFL playoffs. Starting this weekend you can watch former Utah Utes star Alex Smith and his Kansas City Chiefs square off against ex-Cottonwood High and current Indianapolis Colts fullback Stanley Havili on Saturday January 4.
But, that's just the offensive side of the ball. On defense, ex-Ute star/current San Diego Charger and Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle try to slow down the Cincinnati Bengals, while the San Francisco 49ers take on former Utah State/current Green Bay Packers defensive back Jarrett Bush.
Wild Card Weekend is the first step for NFL teams in the 2014 playoffs as they attempt to reach the Super Bowl in Met Life Stadium in New Jersey on Sunday, February 2.
Wild Card Jan. 4 (4:35 p.m. EST) Kansas City Chiefs (5) Indianapolis Colts (4) NBC
Wild Card Jan. 4 (8:10 p.m. EST) New Orleans Saints (6) Philadelphia Eagles (3) NBC
Wild Card Jan. 5 (1:05 p.m. EST) San Diego Chargers (6) Cincinnati Bengals (3) CBS
Wild Card Jan. 5 (4:40 p.m. EST) San Francisco 49ers (5) Green Bay Packers (4) Fox
For Kansas City, former Utah star Alex Smith has had the kind of year that most quarterbacks only dream about. Coming from San Francisco in the off-season (see video), Smith's career appeared to be near its end -- but new Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has resurrected not only Alex's playing days but also that of his new team.
Kansas City rides into Wild Card Weekend as the fifth seed, and though traveling to Indianapolis is not the easiest task a team could ask for, the Chiefs have proven they can play with anyone. The Colts did beat the Chiefs earlier this season in Kansas City -- but you would be foolish to count out a team that went 11-5 and was 6-2 on the road.
"They out-executed us. They won the turnover battle and won it by a lot and anytime that happens in a football game it’s tough to overcome," said Smith in a press conference on Tuesday, December 31." I don’t know if there’s any one thing; I think they just flat outplayed us. So for us, a chance to go to their place and a brand new ball game, so we’ll see.”
Smith threw for 3,313 yards and 23 touchdowns -- versus seven interceptions. He also ran for 431 yards -- and his press conference this week proved he and his Chiefs -- also featuring former Ute Sean Smith -- are ready for the task.
On the other side of the pigskin, the Indianapolis Colts have fullback Stanley Havili, a Cottonwood High School product who matriculated at USC -- eschewing overtures from in-state programs BYU and Utah to play for the legendary Trojans in sunny southern California.
Havili has had a career season for the Colts, featuring as the team's starting fullback for most of the season. He had seven yards on seven carries -- yet he did score a touchdown and hauled in 18 catches for 128 yards.
Moving on to the San Diego Chargers, 2013 has been a huge year for former Utah star Eric Weddle. He was named to his second Pro Bowl squad -- and was San Diego's top tackler with 115 on the year.
Weddle will play in his first NFL playoff game this weekend against the Cincinnati Bengals -- courtesy of a gutsy play call he made on a fake punt last week in a win in overtime over Kansas City. Did I mention he also had his auto-biography published -- a great read from Deseret News reporter Trent Toone?
Weddle may have had all of those wonderful things happen to him in 2013 -- but now he'll turn his attention to Wild Card Weekend. His Chargers take on the Bengals in Cincinnati -- in what should be a defensive-minded game.
The Chargers' Utah connections don't stop with Weddle; you also have head coach Mike Mc Coy -- a former Utah quarterback in the 1990s who played with guys like Kevin Dyson and Luther Eilliss under ex-Ute coach Ron Mc Bride.
In McCoy's first season in charge since coming over from Denver where he was that team's offensive coordinator, the Chargers have compiled a 9-7 record and are on a four-game winning streak.
San Diego also has linebacker Manti Te'o, who also has roots in Utah and needs no explanation to anyone in America -- not after what happened with his fake girlfriend.
Finally, though you haven't heard much from former Utah State defensive back and current Green Bay Packers player Jarrett Bush in a while, he does exist.
His Packers host the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field on Sunday, January 5 to close out Wild Card Weekend.
Bush played big last week against division rival Chicago, registering two tackles in a 33-28 win over the Bears.
It wasn't his best game all season -- that was in Atlanta on December 8 -- but the division-clinching victory was a sign the Pack are on the prowl.
As for Bush, the Aggie came on strong towards the end -- much like his own teams in college and the pros did -- and seems to have resurrected his pro career. He hasn't enjoyed a big a moment in the spotlight since Super Bowl XLV in 2011 -- but and other Utah sports figures hope this is the year they return to the spotlight.