Nov. 15, 2010
TUCSON - Checking in on the NFL action this weekend, we couldn't help but notice the performances put up by former University of Arizona football student-athletes on the gridiron.
First, it was former receiver Mike Thomas coming up with a last-second Hail Mary reception to win the game for his Jacksonville Jaguars over Houston. Thomas, affectionately nicknamed 'Money' for his clutch play as a Wildcat from 2005-08, was just that on Sunday as he hauled in a deflected last-second heave to clinch a 31-24 victory for the Jags.
Thomas' 149 yards receiving Sunday topped his previous best of 89 yards earlier this season. Also, per the ESPN stat gurus, his 50-yard TD grab on the last play was just the fourth time in NFL history that a regular season game ended on a game-winning TD pass of 50 yards or more with no time remaining.
Asked about the catch, Jags running back Maurice Jones-Drew told reporters, "I'm assuming we're all going to the ESPYs this summer...play of the year. I told Mike to book my ticket!"
Money Mike's reception seemed to then open the floodgates for success by UA NFLers.
All-Pro linebacker Lance Briggs picked off a pass and recorded five tackles to aid Chicago's 27-13 win over Minnesota.
Former Pac-10 Scholar Athlete and All-American Spencer Larsen, playing for the Denver Broncos, hauled in Tim Tebow's first-ever TD pass in Denver's 49-29 over Kansas City.
Nick Folk, although missing on three attempts including one to ice the game in OT, did convert two field goals and the New York Jets ultimately beat the Cleveland Browns, 26-20.
And while the afternoon Wildcat-themed highlights were fun, it was former UA tight end Rob Gronkowski who had arguably the best game while under the lights on Sunday Night Football, catching three TD passes to spur his New England Patriots to a 39-26 victory over Pittsburgh.
'Gronk', a rookie with the Pats who was taken in the second round of this year's NFL draft, has to be pleased after being passed over by many teams worried by a back injury he sustained just before his junior season at Arizona. With his effort Sunday, Big Rob became just the sixth rookie tight end in NFL history to record three TD's in a single game since 1960.
As for what this means for Arizona, four of the previously mentioned five UA players in the NFL played under head coach Mike Stoops. Stoops, currently in his seventh season at the helm for the Wildcats, and his staff have, and will continue to, meld student-athletes into players capable of shining in professional football.