On Feb. 7, the National Football League will stage its big event in Tampa and much has already been made of the MLB ties in this year’s matchup between the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers are led by six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, who was a good enough player at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif., the Montreal Expos made him their 18th-round pick in the 1995 MLB June Amateur Draft. Brady, however, opted to accept a football scholarship at the University of Michigan.
So we’ll never really know if he could have made the majors as a catcher since he found at least a small amount of success in his other sporting endeavor.
But his counterpart, Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs, also has deep ties to MLB.
Mahomes, a standout pitcher at Whitehouse (Texas) High School, was considered a top prospect, but not one expected to sign after he had already committed to play football at Texas Tech University. That didn’t stop the Detroit Tigers from taking a 37th-round flyer on Mahomes, an MLB legacy.
His father is Pat Mahomes, who pitched for six different MLB clubs over an 11-year career from 1992-97 and 1999-2003. He was a sixth-round pick of the Minnesota Twins from Lindale (Texas) High School in 1988 and made his debut for the Twins on April 12, 1992. He would later play for the Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Mahomes spent 22 seasons in professional baseball in all, pitching for both Grand Prairie and Sioux Falls in the independent American Association in 2009. He spent part of the 1997 season and all of 1998 playing for the Yokohama Bay Stars in the Japan Central League as well.
That many connections got us to thinking about which NFL players from the Super Bowl era (which began with the 1966 NFL and American Football League seasons) had the best careers in MLB.
There are fewer than 70 players who played in both leagues, according to Baseball Almanac, and only nine of those come from the Super Bowl era.
The crossover player most recently active was former New York Yankees infielder Drew Henson, who played in MLB in 2002-03 and quarterback with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys in 2004 and the Detroit Lions in 2008. Henson was taken by the Yankees in the third round in 1998 out of high school and played in the minors concurrent with playing football at the University of Michigan.
Henson was traded twice before he made his major league debut — to the Cincinnati Reds in 2000 as part of a trade that brought Denny Neagle to the Bronx and then back to the Yankees in 2001 in exchange for Wily Mo Pena.
Two of the nine played their brief MLB careers before the Super Bowl era, but then extended their pro football careers into that time. The Tigers signed catcher Tom Yewcic of Michigan State University in 1954 and he made his one and only appearance in the majors on June 27, 1957, popping out to shortstop in the seventh inning of a 7-2 loss to the Washington Senators.
Yewcic later played quarterback (some) and punted (mostly) for the Boston Patriots of the AFL from 1961-66.
The other early crossover was Tom Brown, who played for the Green Bay Packers in the first two Super Bowls as a starting safety in an NFL career that lasted from 1964-69.
He had been signed out of the University of Maryland in 1963 and played 61 games that season for the Senators at first base and all three outfield positions, batting .147 with a .433 OPS in 128 plate appearances. He homered once and drove in four runs.
Other crossovers include
- D.J. Dozier (Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions running back, 1987-91; New York Mets outfielder, 1992)
- Matt Kinzer (Detroit Lions punter, 1987; St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers pitcher, 1989-90)
- Chad Hutchinson (St. Louis Cardinals pitcher, 2001; Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears quarterback, 2002-04)
That brings us to the three players from the Super Bowl era of the NFL that had the biggest impact in MLB.