A history of former Commodores in the Super Bowl

Adam Butler (69) as Vanderbilt lost against the South Carolina Gamecocks 13-10 at Vanderbilt Stadium September 1, 2016. Photo by Ziyi Liu.

Just last season, Adam Butler was sacking quarterbacks and taking names for the Vanderbilt Commodores.

On May 5, 2017, the New England Patriots signed him as a rookie free agent. Unlike the vast majority of other professional football players, Butler will get to experience a Super Bowl firsthand as a rookie when his Patriots take on the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday. He has been a revelation for the Patriots this season, playing in all 16 regular-season games and starting six of them. He’s racked up 16 tackles and two sacks on the season, as well as two sacks in two postseason games.

Former Commodore offensive lineman Andrew Jelks was also signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent. Unfortunately, he has been sidelined by a non-football injury before the beginning of the 2017-18 season and he remains on the Reserve/Non-Football injury list.

Over the past few decades, Vanderbilt has had a number of alumni who were drafted into the NFL and several who made it to the Super Bowl over the course of their football careers.

Here’s a look back at some of the Commodore alums that have played on the biggest stage.

1980-1981: The Philadelphia Eagles won the NFC Championship Game to earn a spot in Super Bowl XV with the help of safety and Vanderbilt alum Brenard Wilson. The Eagles lost the Super Bowl to the Oakland Raiders, 27-10.

1990-1992: The Buffalo Bills were AFC Champions for the 1990-1991 and the 1991-1992 seasons. Former Commodore Will Wolford was an offensive lineman for the Bills during both of these seasons. In Super Bowl XXV, the New York Giants edged out the Bills 20-19, and in Super Bowl XXVI, the Bills lost again to the Washington Redskins 37-24.

2000-2001: The Baltimore Ravens won the AFC Championship game and crushed the Giants 34-7 in Super Bowl XXXV. Former Vanderbilt safety Corey Harris played for the Ravens from 1998 to 2001, winning a ring with Baltimore in 2001, before moving to the Detroit Lions for two years and then retiring.

2002-2003: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their first and only NFC Championship game and Super Bowl in Super Bowl XXXVII when they beat the Raiders 48-21. The Buccaneers boasted two Vanderbilt players that season. Tight end Todd Yoder played for the team from 2001 to 2003, and linebacker Shelton Quarles played for them during his entire ten-year career from 1997 to 2006.

Quarles also owns the Buccaneers record for longest play with a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown in 2001.

2005-2006: The Seattle Seahawks won the NFC Championship game but lost Super Bowl XL to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 21-10. Cornerback Jimmy Williams, who transitioned to playing defense under Vanderbilt head coach Woody Widenhofer, played for the Seahawks only for this season and the 2006 season before moving to the Houston Texans in 2008.

Williams is still one of just three Vanderbilt players ever to return both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown.

2006-2007: The Chicago Bears were NFC Champions but lost Super Bowl XLI 29-17 to the Indianapolis Colts, who had undergone a nine-year building program. Former Commodore great Hunter Hillenmeyer was a linebacker for the Bears during the last eight years of his career, 2003 to 2010. 

2011-2012: The NFC Champion Giants barely edged out the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI by a score of 21-17. Former Commodore linebacker Jonathan Goff was on the team and earned a Super Bowl ring. However, he had torn his ACL prior to practice in week one and missed the entire season. He played for New York from 2008 to 2011.

With Butler in the fold as the Patriots and Eagles take the field next Sunday, it’s very exciting for Vanderbilt students, faculty, and alumni to see another Super Bowl with Commodore ties. 

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