Even though Fresno State boasts 13 players on active NFL rosters, no Bulldogs played in the New England Patriots’ 34-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday evening at Super Bowl LI.
While no one left their Bulldog spirit on the field, two coaches on the winning side have ties to Fresno State. New England Patriots’ head strength and conditioning coach, Moses Cabrera, coached for the Bulldogs from 2002-09, and offensive assistant Cole Popovich played for the Bulldogs from 2004-08.
Cabrera served as a graduate assistant for the Bulldogs in 2002-03 and then as an assistant strength coach through the 2009 season.
Popovich, in his first full season with the Patriots, was a four-year starting offensive lineman for the Bulldogs. He was the first true freshman in the era of Pat Hill, the former Falcons’ offensive line coach (2012-13), to earn a start on the offensive line. Because of an injury, his first season was cut short causing him to medically redshirt. Popovich started a total of 25 games for the Bulldogs.
With the help of Cabrera and Popovich, the Patriots were able to secure their fifth Super Bowl title.
The Patriots’ offense had a total of 546 net yards with an average of 5.9 yards per play, with 37 first downs in more than 40 minutes of possession.
Former Bulldog Richard Smith, in his second year as the Falcons’ defensive coordinator, found himself on the other side of the victory.
Smith was an offensive lineman at Fresno State in 1977 and 1978 and helped lead the Bulldogs to the Pacific Coast Athletic Association title in his first year with the program.
Falcons’ cornerback Robert Alford picked off Tom Brady for the game’s only interception and ran for a touchdown. Cornerback Jalen Collins led the defense with 10 tackles and with three sacks. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett led the Falcons’ defensive line.