Two FIU Panthers have now reached the Super Bowl. Caylin Hauptmann hopes he’ll be the first to actually see the field.
Back in 2007, Nick Turnbull was a reserve safety for the Bears but had to watch from the sidelines as Peyton Manning won the Lombardi Trophy for the first time.
Fast forward seven years, and Hauptmann hopes history doesn’t repeat itself. Again, Manning stands between an FIU player and the school’s first Super Bowl ring.
And again, it’s a long-shot that Hauptmann sees the field. The rookie offensive lineman hasn’t appeared in a game all season with his Seattle Seahawks.
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But that’s not to mean he doesn’t play a crucial role on the NFC’s representative in the Super Bowl.
As a scout-team contributor who can play all three positions on the line, Hauptmann’s job is to make sure Seahawks defensive ends Red Bryant and Michael Bennett have been prepared to get after Manning, the Broncos’ spectacular quarterback.
“Everyone has their own part to play in this whole thing,” Hauptmann said. “Whether it’s quarterbacking, blocking, scout team, anything. We’re all just one little piece of the puzzle. And we all know that. That’s the best part of our team.”
In that way, Hauptmann is a perfect fit on a team that has broken the mold. Its quarterback (Russell Wilson) is supposedly too short, its star defensive player (Richard Sherman) too loud and stud running back (Marshawn Lynch) too quiet.
Many of its top contributors were drafted later than expected. Hauptmann wasn’t drafted at all. And yet, here they are, one win from the Pacific Northwest’s first Super Bowl championship.
“When you go through enough adversity in your life, and enough people tell you ‘no,’ you don’t get drafted or you don’t get drafted as high as you want to get drafted, it puts a little chip on your shoulder,” Hauptmann said.
That’s doubly true for Hauptmann, who went to junior college before enrolling at FIU in 2010. He didn’t participate in the NFL Scouting Combine and didn’t have his name called on draft weekend.
Undaunted, Hauptmann signed with the Browns as a rookie free agent and went to camp with them. They waived him just before the regular season began and asked if he wanted to return as a practice-squad member. He didn’t have to — the Seahawks wanted him on their 53-man roster.
“He is a tough guy,” Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable said. “Extremely powerful, very athletic. And that’s all I care about. If they have a good brain and they’re tough, I can do the rest with him. He’s come in and bought in, and he’s going to be a good player for us.”
And he’s been along for an unbelievable ride. Hauptmann’s Seahawks play in front of Seattle’s 12th Man, and that fan base gave the team a rousing sendoff as it drove to the airport Sunday. There were people banging on the side of the bus as it made its way, he said.
And Tuesday, the California native participated in a time-honored ritual: Media Day.
Thousands of reporters and cameramen stuffed the floor at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., and even though he was tucked off into a pen with other lower-profile players, Hauptmann was still sought out by reporters from different ends of the country.
Even Entertainment Tonight came over for an interview, but he stayed in the background and let his teammates take the lead.
Hauptmann’s family is coming in for Sunday’s big game, and he hopes to bring them down to the field afterward. That means the Seahawks would have won, and the confetti will be flying.
But make no mistake: If Hauptmann ever gets this chance again, he wants to be one of the five men blocking up front.
“I’ve realized that most rookies don’t play their first year,” Hauptmann said. “When you come in, you think, ‘Oh, I’ve got to play. I’ve got to get on the field immediately.’ But there are so many steps to it.
“There’s old guys, guys who have been around the program longer,” he added. “If my name is called on Sunday, I’m in, it’s no biggie to me. I’m ready to play whenever my name is called.”