Justin Watson didn’t play a single down of football in Super Bowl LV, but that didn’t stop him from making history.
With a cannon firing in the background, Watson, a former standout for Penn football, hoisted the Lombardi Trophy proudly on the turf of his home field, Raymond James Stadium, with his parents by his side after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers soundly defeated the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs by a score of 31-9.
After a 13-year drought from the postseason, the Buccaneers signed fabled quarterback Tom Brady this offseason after his 20 years with the New England Patriots. After an up-and-down start, the Bucs got hot late in the season, resulting in a Wild Card playoff berth. After winning three straight road playoff games, they became the first team to host a Super Bowl they also played in, and thanks to a strong performance from the defense and a nearly flawless night from Brady, they were able to get the job done in historic fashion.
In his third year with the Bucs, Watson was looking to make an impact after finishing last season on a torrid pace for his standards. However, after the Bucs signed former All-Pro Antonio Brown, he saw his playing time diminish, not playing more than 10% of offensive snaps in any game after Week 7. He finished the season with seven receptions for 94 yards and no touchdowns.
Still, Watson remained a solid contributor on special teams after losing ground in the receiver room, even appearing in the Bucs’ victory over the Packers in the NFC Championship game two weeks ago.
With the win in the big game, Watson became the second Penn football alumnus to win a Super Bowl, with the first being fullback Jim Finn, who as a New York Giant, coincidentally defeated then-Patriot Brady in 2008, spoiling his quest for a perfect season. However, Finn, like Watson, did not play in the game as earlier in the year he had suffered an injury that ended his season and, ultimately, his career.
While Finn and Watson will both always be Super Bowl champions, no Penn football alumnus has ever played in a Super Bowl, win or lose, to this day.
Watson, who is under contract for one more season under his rookie deal, will look to change that next season. As Brady and the Bucs have indicated that they have every intention of running it back next year at SoFi Stadium, our attention will shift to what kind of a role Watson plays in that pursuit.
Although he was buried in the receiver depth chart this year, a couple of the star players in front of him, namely Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, will be free agents this offseason, and it remains to be seen if they will return to Tampa. Should they leave, it is plausible that Watson could see playing time at receiver again. However, given the ever-changing state of NFL rosters, it’s also possible that the Bucs will set Watson free and he will try to catch on elsewhere.
But Watson surely isn’t thinking about that right now. Now, he’s basking in the glory that comes with the distinct honor of winning a Super Bowl championship, a feeling he’ll almost certainly never forget.