Irish in the NFL

storyThe National Football League is a rich environment for Irish influence. With the Super Bowl taking over the airwaves today it is perhaps fitting that we note the top twenty Irish-Americans in the NFL, past and present.

Pete Carroll: Two of his grandparents were Irish emigrants. Ironically he grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Did a super job with USC and now has Seattle poised to go win their first Super Bowl.

John Fox: The wily former Denver Broncos coach has Tipperary roots and is a tough old cuss, as he proved when coming back after heart surgery a few years ago.

Tom Brady: “Tom Terrific” several Super Bowl titles and MVP of the big game. His roots are County Cavan and he has that fiery Irish temperament that won’t take defeat lightly. Among the all-time greats.

Colin Kaepernick: Biological grandson of Margaret Anne Curran from Cork, though he is adopted.

Jim Harbaugh: The former San Francisco coach is great-grandson of Margaret Malone born in Ireland. A devout Irish Catholic, he often goes on overseas religious missions. Much better coach than player; huge success with Stanford, San Francisco, and now Michigan.

Tom Coughlin: Former Catholic seminarian from Waterloo, NY. Cagey old New York Giants coach pulled off two Super Bowl victories against all odds.

Mick McCarthy: Took the Green Bay Packers to the Super Bowl winner’s circle in 2010 when they defeated his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers. He holds, arguably, the toughest coaching job in the league given the outsize reputation of Vince Lombardi. McCarthy is always in his shadow. Lombardi would love this working class son of an Irish fireman and pub owner.

Rex Ryan: The ‘Mouth of the South’ has clammed up lately, but is still an outsized personality.

Bill O’Brien: Former coach of the Houston Texans, and formerly with Penn State where he achieved a remarkable turnaround. Prior to that he was with the New England Patriots.

John Harbaugh: Brother of Jim (see above), he won Super Bowl as the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens.

Chip Kelly: The former Philadelphia coach had great success in his first year with the Eagles. New England native brought his Oregon turbo-charged run and gun style to the pros and it really paid off.

Sean Payton: The former New Orleans coach Patrick Sean Payton was named after the Irish “Rosary Priest” Father Patrick Peyton. He didn’t need the Rosary, though, to win the Super Bowl in 2009.

Mike McCoy: In his first season in charge of the San Diego Chargers and he led them to the playoffs against Denver.

Dan Rooney: Chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers and former US ambassador to Ireland, one of the true gentlemen of the game who will always be remembered for the Rooney rule which mandated that African Americans be interviewed for head coaching jobs.

Pat Bowlen: Owner of the Denver Broncos, from an Irish Canadian oil family. He has overseen the Broncos’ march to the top, to be one of the best franchises in the NFL. Bowlen has been a member of the American Ireland Fund Dinner Committee for the past 22 years and a Trustee for the Irish Community Center for 11 years.

John Mara: New York Giants CEO and co-owner. Son of the legendary Wellington Mara, John Kevin Mara has continued the family tradition in excellence when it comes to the Giants organization, winning two Super Bowls.

Andy Dalton: Red-haired Dalton is a backup quarterback with the New Orleans Saints, and was formerly with the Cincinnati Bengals

Matt Ryan: “Matty Ice,” former quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, brought them to the verge of the Super Bowl in 2012, but lost to San Francisco in the NFC title game at home. A Philadelphia Irish kid, he was a star performer at Boston College in his college days and currently plays for the Indianapolis Colts.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: The former Tennessee Titans quarterback is a Harvard graduate and allegedly has one of the highest IQ’s among NFL players. He has a mixed record on the field, however, and has become a second stringer after an initially promising start to his career.

Mike Shanahan: The former coach – devout Catholic and a Chicago area Irish kid – his own playing career ended after a serious collision on the field after which his heart stopped and he was given last rites.