With the Saints once again the best team in the NFL not playing in the Super Bowl, I'm here for you, here to assist you in working up some kind of rooting interest beyond what numbers are in your board squares for each quarter.

It's a no-brainer this year. No need for much discussion.

I mean, really, who roots for San Francisco in anything unless the 49ers are playing New England?

Take the good Midwestern stock like Kansas City any time. Besides, the Chiefs haven't been in the big one since winning the IVth one, 50 long years ago.

That's enough suffering. The 49ers always seemed to have Joe Montana and when the Chiefs finally got him, sadly, he had forgotten how to get to and win the blamed thing.

Let some loyal and long-suffering fans have their chance.

That's no reason to be rooting for the Chiefs, though.

You could try quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the most exciting player in the game today. That'd be reason enough, the coronation of the new face of the NFL, a likeable one at that.

He's not one of the five LSU players in the game — tied for the most from any school — but to me it almost seems like it.

He was first brought to my attention against the Tigers in the 2015 Texas Bowl in Houston while dropping dimes and a lot jaws for Texas Tech. I'll always associate him with that game, which wasn't much of a game.

Texas Tech wasn't very good and was really awful on defense. So LSU easily won the game, 56-27, with its usual array of NFL-in-waiting talent.

But Mahomes was so clearly the best player on the field that night it was almost comical.

The Tigers were still very much quarterback-challenged at the time — remember those years? — and a popular parlor game among fans was to imagine what any given game might look like if the two teams could switch quarterbacks.

In this case it would have been a Brandon Harris-for-Mahomes swap and, just to pick a random number, my guess would have been 100-3.

Mahomes was everywhere, always with Tigers in hot pursuit, but forever squirting this way and that, throwing behind his back, standing on his head, sometimes making two or three retreating laps in the backfield before launching perfect strikes.

So, no, it doesn't surprise anybody who was there that night that he's the most exciting player in the NFL today.

It's enough reason to get behind the Chiefs.

But not mine. Me, I'm pulling for the Chiefs' Honey Badger today.

Tyrann Mathieu seems to bob and weave with his acceptance, or lack thereof of, the greatest nickname in sports.

Lots of ups and downs in life, too.

But the former LSU Tiger might be the most exciting defensive player in the NFL. Just look for the ball, Mathieu tends to be around it, usually up to the usual mischief he first perfected with the Tigers.

He can be to defense what Mahomes is to offense.

I don't know if he's the best LSU defensive player ever, but in 2011, in what really was just picking up where he left off his freshman year, he had the single best season ever by a Tigers defender, without question the most disruptive.

When Honey Badger made one of his sneak attacks into the backfield, the crowd anticipation rose like you normally hear when a deep receiver gets wide open — something bad was about to happen to the opposing offense. If lucky, maybe they'd get out of it with a sack, more likely a turnover of some sort.

But even that wasn't what made and makes him so much fun to watch.

He wasn't the physical specimen that screams "NFL," and he certainly wasn't the fastest. He looked like he could have been plucked out of the student section and programmed to go wreak his never-ending havoc.

Getting away from was like trying to escape a swarm of gnats.

It was never clear whether he was a safety, a cornerback or a nickel back. It was more like he was just playing PP — Persistent Pest — showing up all over the field as the Annoying Honey Badger.

It's gratifying that all these years later, in addition to becoming an All-Pro, by all accounts he's turned out to be one of the league's best role models and locker room leaders as well.

A lot of players get rich in the NFL and give money back to their schools. But it's a short list of those who, like the Honey Badger, donated a cool $1 million to the school that kicked him off the football team eight months after he was invited as a finalist to the Heisman Trophy presentation.

That was in August of 2012, a classic "violation of team rules," reportedly failing one too many tests for marijuana.

Then-head head coach Les Miles later called it the "worst" decision of his career, although Miles likely meant "toughest" as he presumably had little choice.

However it happened, the very night he was booted from LSU, Mathieu showed up in then-head coach Matt Viator's office at McNeese State, looking for a quick-fix next stop in his career.

They talked for a while, with Viator seeing a confused and hurt Honey Badger who looked beaten and bewildered by the day's events.

Viator finally told Mathieu that he probably needed to go on back home to think things out before making an emotional, knee-jerk decision.

That night Mathieu probably couldn't imagine a Super Bowl in his future.

But he always was a persistent little Honey Badger.


Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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