10 Former Hawkeyes, Cyclones, & Panthers Part of Teams in NFL Conference Finals
What. A. Weekend. Four games. All decided on the final play, one of them in overtime. It was, in my opinion, the best weekend in the history of the NFL playoffs. Now, only four teams are left standing and, between them, there are 10 players who played for either Iowa, Iowa State, or Northern Iowa.
Helping to lead the Kansas City Chiefs defense is former Iowa Hawkeyes linebacker Anthony Hitchens (#53). Hitchens had 80 tackles during the regular season and six in the AFC Divisional Playoff game against Buffalo. Hitchens has been in the NFL for 8 seasons. All four years he's been with the Kansas City Chiefs, they've reached the AFC (American Football Conference) Championship Game.
Ben Niemann (#56) is also a linebacker for the Chiefs. Niemann played in every regular season game for the Chiefs this year, compiling 57 tackles, a career-high. He's a native of Des Moines and played at the University of Iowa. Like Hitchens, Niemann has been part of the last four Kansas City Chiefs teams to make the AFC Championship game. He's spent his entire 4-year career with the Chiefs.
Austin Blythe played in 63 games for the Los Angeles Rams from 2017 through 2020, starting every game he appeared in his final three seasons on the west coast. Slowed by sports hernia surgery at the start of this season, Blythe played in only four regular season games for the Chiefs. A native of Williamsburg, Iowa, and the University of Iowa, he is in his 6th NFL season.
*Note: Blythe, #66, is now a member of the Kansas City Chiefs
The University of Northern Iowa is represented in the AFC Title Game by (#82) Daurice Fountain. He spent most of his 3rd NFL season, his 1st with the Chiefs, on the Practice Squad. Fountain, a native of Madison, Wisconsin, has played in the last two playoff games. The wide receiver and special teams player collected one tackle against Buffalo in the AFC Divisional Playoff.
The other AFC Championship Game team, the Cincinnati Bengals, have two former Hawkeyes on their roster, but you may not see either of them in action this weekend.
Mike Daniels, nicknamed Diesel, is in his second season with Cincinnati and his 10th in the NFL. The former Iowa Hawkeye Defensive Tackle has been on the Bengals practice squad most of the year, playing in only two regular season games. He saw 48 snaps in Cincinnati's regular season finale at Cleveland, collecting 5 tackles. Daniels appeared in the Wild Card Round against the Las Vegas Raiders but did not play against the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round.
Offensive Tackle Riley Reiff (#71) was a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions, after leaving the University of Iowa following his junior season. He's in his 10th NFL season, his first with Cincinnati. Reiff suffered an ankle injury last month and is out for the season. He started 131 games from 2013 through mid-December of 2021.
The Bengals and Chiefs kick off Sunday afternoon, January 30 at 2 p.m. Iowa time, in Kansas City. The game will be televised by CBS.
Meanwhile, in the NFC (National Football Conference) Championship Game, the Los Angeles Rams host the San Francisco 49ers.
Davenport native and former Iowa Hawkeye Jake Gervase (#39) is a Safety for the Los Angeles Rams. He's played mostly on special teams this season. In his 3rd year, Gervase has been part of 38 special teams plays in the last two Rams playoff games.
Offensive Tackle Alaric Jackson (also goes by AJ) is another offensive lineman from the University of Iowa. He's #77 below but wears #68 for the Los Angeles Rams. Jackson played sparingly in his rookie season, appearing in only four games.
Cedar Rapids native Landen Akers, who played collegiately for Iowa State, is in his first season with the Rams. Akers, a wide receiver who wears #84, has played sparingly during his rookie season, mostly on special teams.
On the other sideline in the NFC (National Football Conference) Championship Game is #85 George Kittle. The Madison, Wisconsin native, and former University of Iowa tight end, is in his 5th-year with the 49ers. He had 71 catches for 910 yards and a career-high 6 touchdowns during the regular season, despite only playing in 14 games.
The 49ers and Rams kick off Sunday afternoon, January 30 at 5:30 p.m. Iowa time, in Los Angeles. The game will be televised by Fox.
Here's hoping this week's games are half as good as the ones we saw yesterday. If they are, they'll still be worth watching.