NFL Championship Weekend ‘Feel Good’ Players To Root For

Are you that rare breed that is neutral on New England, has no emotional connection to the Chiefs, Saints or Rams, but still loves the NFL and will be tuned into the AFC and NFC Championships?  Congratulations because you are among the few that can relish Sunday’s action without, as this week’s TFG Pod guest Valerie Bertinelli said, “nervously pacing like you’re in Bird Box.”

While an emotional runway is a luxury for sports fans, it’s still nice to have some element of rooting interest. Thus we present a number of players who offer something extra beyond the field – be it as an incredible do-gooders or scrappy underdogs (no, not talking about you, Edelman!).

Anthony Hitchens, Chiefs Linebacker: Second Chance

In a new video for Players’ Tribune, Hitchens details the brutal beginning of his childhood where his family was in and out of jail. Hitchens says, “I wanted something more in my life.” Enter Zach Anderson, the quarterback at Hitchens’s high school. Anthony and Zach became fast friends and it took one get-together to change Anthony’s world forever. Moments after Anthony first went over to the Andersons, he asked if could one back. Brad Anderson, Zach’s dad, picked up Anthony, who was started coming over every day and brining more and more clothes, Soon thereafter the Andersons happily adopted Anthony and his brother James, a move they say felt entirely natural.

Anthony says the Andersons are everything you could want in parents and as a husband and soon-to-be-father, he models his life on their love.

C.J. Anderson, Rams Running Back: Fat and Proud

Anderson already sports a Super Bowl ring from his time with the Broncos. He’s been to a Pro Bowl and and comes off a 1,000 yard rushing season in Denver.  But in the last year the undrafted rusher seemed rapidly headed to the same place most over-25-year-old running backs go, irrelevancy. He was released in April by the Broncos in a cap-related move. Carolina later signed Anderson but cut him after it was apparent Christian McCaffery was an every-down back. He was an Oakland Raider for exactly one week after the team released him when they needed roster space for offensive line injuries.

Appears the third time’s a charm in Los Angeles which signed Anderson after Todd Gurley suffered a knee injury in mid-December. The now journeyman back made an immediate impact, rushing for 299 yards in the Rams’ last two regular season games. Even with Gurley back last week, he took advantage of heavy usage against the Cowboys sparking the team to 123 yards and two touchdowns. The big knock on Anderson is his girth – at 5’8 and 235 points he resembles a bowling ball. But the Rams have turned his power and size into an advantage. Anderson takes his tipping the scales in stride.  “I’ve got a baby due in April — got a daughter due in April — so I’m kind of having that man pregnancy weight,” Anderson jokingly told The Dan Patrick Show this week.

Charvarius Ward, Chiefs Cornerback: Comeback Kid

Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger produced a beautiful feature this week on Ward’s unlikely path to the NFL. It begins with the future NFL corner quitting football two days after a high school coach convinced him to play spring ball because Ward was anti-social and the self-proclaimed “mama’s boy,” well, missed his mama.

Part of that closeness likely stemmed from Ward’s traumatic experiences as a kid.  He struggled as a kindergartner to the point that teachers thought he had a learning disability and forced him to repeat the grade. Turns out he just needed better reading glasses.  Then in second grade West had a cyst on his hp that doctors thought might be cancer. It was removed, and West was cleared of cancer but he was wheelchair bound for six months.  After years of helping his mother with relative’s children she took in. Ward finally succumbed to the notion of playing football. He wound up choosing Middle Tennessee State and, while talented, went undrafted. Ward was soon scooped up by the Cowboys as a free agency by released due to Dallas’s significant secondary depth. Kansas City was the next team to sign him where he quickly impressed and has starter the past three games.


Benjamin Watson, Saints Tight End: Long-Time Activist

Watson has accrued 15 NFL seasons and while he’s never surpassed 763 receiving yards, he’s been a fierce blocker and an even better example off the field. Watson, along his wife Kirsten, are dedicated servants of the community. A two-time Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, Watson’s charitable arm partners with other causes. The Watsons have worked on causes ranging from combatting sex trafficking in the Dominican Republic to helping with the refugee crises in the Middle East.

Watson also uses his platform to express his deeply help views on a variety of political and societal issues. What is particular fascinating is that Watson doesn’t fit into any category. He is staunchly pro-life and has called abortion the “ultimate form of racism.” In recent days he has also implored the President to end the shutdown and not “use families as collateral damage.” He also expressed support for the controversial Gillette ad imploring men to be better.

Dwayne Allen, Patriots Tight End: Master of Reliciency

When Allen was a toddler he ingested an unknown amount of Advil and doctors thought he was gone. Until he wasn’t.  An SI feature, delves into Allen’s childhood in which he experienced much pain. His father left, expressing no interest in his young son. His mother, who was 21 when she gave birth to Allen, her SEVENTH child, was a frequent victim of domestic violence by a litany of men. Allen witnessed some of these beating starting as young as four-years old.

Allen went on to be an angry kid distrustful of men and didn’t show much interest in football until the coach at his high school spotted and recruited him. The coach also became a significant father figure for Allen who thrived on the field. Allen went on to play at Clemson and was drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft by the Colts. With the permission of his mother, who he calls “his hero,” Allen now shares her story at women’s shelters and serves as a mentor for children of domestic violence.