It has been LSU's season and a Super one for the Honey Badger, too
Tyrann Mathieu never won a national championship at LSU.
He had one of the most decorated careers of any Tigers defender.
He was a Heisman Trophy finalist while playing on the team that had the best LSU regular season ever – until this season.
The Tigers just concluded their best season ever by winning the national championship with a 15-0 record – and now Mathieu has a chance to win a Super Bowl championship.
Mathieu burst on to the LSU scene 9 years ago in the final game of his freshman season when he had a pass breakup, a sack, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception in a 41-24 victory over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
Now the final game of his first season with the Kansas City Chiefs is ending against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2 in Miami.
The Cotton Bowl performance capped an 11-2 season that signaled that LSU was on the verge of something special and that Mathieu was a special player who was going to have an impact in a variety of ways.
The Chiefs signaled that they expected Mathieu to have an impact in a variety of ways when they signed him to a 3-year, $42 million contract last offseason. He didn’t disappoint, leading the team with 4 interceptions and 12 passes defenses and finishing 3rd with 75 tackles. He had 2 sacks among his 3.5 tackles for loss.
Mathieu, 27, is in his 7th season, having played previously with Arizona and Houston.
The Chiefs saw in him what LSU saw in him – an under-recruited player because he was considered undersized at 5-7. But he has always played bigger than his height, partly because of his athleticism, partly because his confidence and dynamic big-play ability have always been contagious to his teammates.
Mathieu has been the leader of dramatic defensive improvement that has been a key to Kansas City getting over the hump to make its first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years after narrowly missing in an overtime loss to New England in the AFC Championship Game last season, the last game the Chiefs played before Mathieu joined them.
His performance this season earned Mathieu 1st-team All-Pro honors even though he wasn’t selected for the Pro Bowl.
Mathieu first became nationally known as “the Honey Badger” because he too took what he wanted – namely the football – as he did in that Cotton Bowl, as he did on a strip and score on punt coverage in a nationally televised win against Oregon in his next game – the 2011 season opener.
He went on to finish the season with 76 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 7 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries, 2 fumble returns for touchdowns and 2 punt returns for touchdowns.
He was the biggest impact player on a No. 1-ranked team that went 13-0 and won the SEC championship before losing to Alabama in the BCS Championship, earning himself a trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony.
More of the same was expected from Mathieu and his Tigers teammates in 2012, but he was kicked off the team during preseason camp after failing multiple drug tests.
So it was off to the NFL and the Cardinals picked him in the 3rd round. Mathieu was a very good player for his first 6 seasons, but this season he has come closest to matching the impact he had at LSU in 2011.
The Tigers weren’t as good without Mathieu as they were without him. It took them 8 years after that trip to the BCS title game to play for another national championship.
LSU whipped Clemson 42-25 on Jan. 13 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, which is less than 4 miles from St. Augustine High School where Mathieu starred before going to LSU.
The last time Kansas City was in the Super Bowl it defeated Minnesota in Super Bowl IV in New Orleans, though in Tulane Stadium and not the Superdome.
If the Chiefs win this one, it wouldn’t be surprising if Mathieu has a big hand in it – maybe even gets named Most Valuable Player.
He’s that kind of player – and it’s been that kind of football season for LSU.