Super reunion: Rams’ Andrew Whitworth is excited to play against the former Bengals team in the Super Bowl

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INGLEWOOD, California – As the Los Angeles Rams warmed up at SoFi Stadium ahead of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, the giant video screen hanging over the court showed the Cincinnati Bengals storming back from an 18-point deficit against the Kansas City Chiefs before winning a walk- off field goal in overtime.

Andrew Whitworth could not stop looking up.

There was enough drama in the Bengals’ last-second victory to capture anyone’s attention, but especially the attention from the timeless left-wing tackle who spent the first 11 seasons of his NFL career in Cincinnati. And after the Rams had their own comeback against the San Francisco 49ers to arrange a date in the Super Bowl LVI with his old team, Whitworth’s phone was predictably blown up.

“I’ve obviously heard from a ton of people over there, and it’s really cool and really special,” Whitworth said earlier this week. “Having a relationship with a lot of the staff over there still and some of the players and of course all the relationships we had during our time there in the city, it’s a really special place for us.”

The way Whitworth talks about the Bengals and the city of Cincinnati suggests he does not see this as a game of revenge. More like a meeting.

As a second round from LSU in 2006, he made 168 starts for the Bengals at a time when they were often good enough to win at least 10 games, but never quite good enough to win in the playoffs, and led wild card round outings in all six of their appearances during Whitworth’s time in Cincinnati.

When they beat the Las Vegas Raiders in the wildcard round last month, it gave the Bengals their first playoff victory in 31 years.

“It’s been great,” Whitworth said of their run for Super Bowl LVI under third-year coach Zac Taylor and second-year quarterback Joe Burrow. “Still have some good relationships there. I’ve developed some new ones with different guys in that locker room. I think my wife and I just see them from a distance, it’s been so exciting. We’re tuned in all the time.

“I was so excited about it [NFC Championship] game [Sunday] but then also at the same time I could hardly help but look at the screen because I knew how close they were to pulling it off. What an amazing achievement it is. “

One of the strong relationships Whitworth mentioned is with Taylor, who spent two seasons as the Rams’ offensive assistant under Sean McVay. The Bengals hired him a day after the Los Angeles lost to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.

“Having a guy like Zac Taylor here and knowing who he is and being excited that he’s going there, I remember that decision when we were going to the Super Bowl for the first time,” Whitworth said. “I was excited about him and excited about the city of Cincinnati. Even more now I think they’ll get to see what an amazing guy Zac Taylor is, what a leader he is and what an amazing coach he is. And of course this great young talent too. , they have added, and how special Joe Burrow is. “

While there is no hint of anger in the way Whitworth talks about his former team, Bengals fans may be upset by the way the organization let him go as a free agent in 2017. He was 35 at the time, but came from his third Pro Bowl and had been named a first-team All-Pro season before. I have played in all 16 games in nine of his 11 seasons with the team.

The Rams made him one of McVay’s first free-agent additions, signing him to a $ 33.75 million three-year deal. The Bengals tried without much success to replace him with Cedric Ogbuehi and Cordy Glenn for the next two seasons before hitting Jonah Williams 11th overall in 2019, but Williams missed his rookie season with a shoulder injury.

Meanwhile, Whitworth ranks second in ESPN’s pass block win rate among offensive tackles since 2017. He was the Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro in his first season in Los Angeles.

“He has certainly meant a lot to this organization both on and off the field,” McVay said earlier this season, shortly before Whitworth became only the fifth offensive lineman since the 1970 merger to play in a match as a 40-year-old. “I think sometimes you take for granted that he’s 40 years old. If you did not know it with the bald head and stuff like that, I mean he’s moving around like he’s young and he has great athletics. “

Whitworth is signed for 2022 with a planned cap charge north of $ 17 million next season. That’s a big number for a team that needs to clear space before the free agency to get under the pay cap.

He said earlier this season that the only way he would retire after this year is if the Rams could not afford him, “or there’s just one way we both fail to be back.”

The Super Bowl LVI may or may not be a ride-off-in-the-sunset battle for Whitworth.

But it does not sound like a game of revenge.

“I told Zac Taylor this [Sunday] night when we talked, ‘Both places have my heart, and both places I have people I believe in,’ “Whitworth said.” So really special and cool moment for me to get to play in this game and play against a place that means so much take. “

Information from ESPN NFL Nation reporters Ben Baby and Lindsey Thiry was used in this story.

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