LOS ANGELES (AP) — If anyone has an appreciation for the long winding road the Cincinnati Bengals have taken to their first Super Bowl in 33 years, it is Andrew Whitworth.
But if the Los Angeles Rams left tackle wants to win his first championship, he will have to do it against his former team.
The Bengals drafted Whitworth in the second round in 2006. He helped get the franchise to six postseason appearances in 11 seasons before signing with the Rams in 2017.
“I told (Bengals coach) Zac Taylor when we talked Sunday night that both places have my heart and people that I believe in. It’s really special and a cool moment for me to get to play in this game and play against a place that means so much to me,” Whitworth said.
Even though Whitworth was going through pregame preparations for the NFC championship game, he still found himself trying to view the final minutes of the Bengals' AFC championship game at Kansas City.
Whitworth also remains close with Taylor, a Rams’ assistant in 2017 and ’18.
“Just watching them from afar this season has been exciting,” Whitworth said. “I am excited for Zac and the city of Cincinnati. They are seeing what a great guy, leader, and coach he is. And then obviously there is the young talent they have added and how special of a player Joe Burrow is.”
This will be the second time Whitworth has gone up against the Bengals. The teams played in 2018 in a regular-season game in London, Five players and two assistant coaches remain on Cincinnati's roster from Whitworth's final season in stripes in 2016.
Whitworth played at both tackle and guard spots his first three seasons in Cincinnati before finding a permanent home at left tackle in 2009. He was an All-Pro selection in 2015 and made three Pro Bowl trips during his time with the Bengals.
Besides what he did on the field, Whitworth was a pillar in the locker room. Not only was he a team captain, but he was the Bengals player representative for the NFL Players Association and helped organize team workouts during the 2011 lockout.
Whitworth and his wife, Melissa, were also involved in numerous community initiatives around the Cincinnati area. He is once again a finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which will be presented during the NFL Honors on Feb. 10.
“From the time we were fortunate enough to draft him, what he meant to me as a player and as a rock in that locker room was outstanding,” former Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “He’s made every team he’s been on better.”
The Bengals thought Whitworth’s career was at or near its end going into 2017. Cincinnati drafted what it thought would be Whitworth’s replacement in 2015 with Cedric Ogbuehi in the first round. The Los Angeles Rams, who had hired Sean McVay as coach, thought Whitworth had a lot left as a player and leader when they signed him to a three-year deal.
He was an All-Pro selection his first year in Los Angeles in 2017 and helped get the Rams to the Super Bowl the following season. While many thought Whitworth would not play all three seasons of his original Rams deal, he continues to prove people wrong. This season, he became the first offensive lineman in league history to suit up at age 40. Whitworth becomes the league’s active elder statesman with Tom Brady’s retirement on Tuesday.
While Brady led the league in passing yards and touchdowns at 44, Whitworth also put up some incredible stats of his own. This season, he was Pro Football Focus’ top-ranked pass blocker at tackle and has allowed only 20 pressures in 625 pass-blocking snaps.
One person who continues to appreciate Whitworth’s longevity is McVay.
“It’s the damndest thing ever that this guy’s still doing it at the age of 40. It’s awesome,” McVay said. “When you get around him, you’re not as surprised, but I can remember after that first year spending some time with him and their family. Melissa told me there’s no way he’s even playing past the second year. And here he is, a couple more contracts after that initial three-year deal.”
While McVay appreciates Whitworth’s leadership, Whitworth has enjoyed seeing McVay’s development as a head coach from a unique position since he is 4 years older than his boss.
“It’s very rare in this league to ever be older than your head coach, and by a pretty good bit. It’s even more rare to be with them at the start, watch the transition and then grow in their role and find out who they are,” Whitworth said. “I couldn’t be more proud of him for that part, and how much he’s grown and I’ve gotten to be a part of it.”
Whitworth likes the Rams being able to play at home because they can continue working out and practicing at their facility in Thousand Oaks while not being in a hotel for a week and preparing. The one thing he will continue to stress to his teammates is to continue enjoying the experience.
“I know what it feels like, at my age to play and keep up with these guys. And sometimes the only thing that gets me through it is realizing that I’m getting to do it, and I don’t have to do it,” he said. “What a cool opportunity it is to be where I’m at and stand where my feet are and enjoy the moment. I try to make sure all these guys keep that in perspective and realize what a cool opportunity it is and approach it that way sometimes, instead of always feeling like they’re obligated, or they have this burden on them to live up to expectations.”
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