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Dee Ford tries to go from goat to hero in Super Bowl

Updated January 27, 2020 - 9:21 pm

MIAMI

What you might not know about being referred to as a hero or goat: The phrase was popularized by the late Charles Schulz in his Peanuts comic strip. Something about Charlie Brown and whether or not he caught a baseball.

Dee Ford has a unique opportunity come Super Bowl LIV on Sunday.

In a span of a year, he can be both.

Select are those NFL players afforded the shot to play in a season’s final game, never mind the chance Ford owns when his 49ers meet the Chiefs at Hard Rock Stadium.

Your choice: It’s a blessing or curse to allow the past to control your present, because the hardest times often lead to the greatest moments.

“I have to let it go,” Ford said at Opening Night for the Super Bowl on Monday at Marlins Park, “so I can move forward.”

He was a Pro Bowl selection in 2018, one of the league’s better defensive ends whose miscue on one snap in last year’s AFC championship game kept the Chiefs from reaching the moment in which they now bask.

Charvarius Ward had intercepted Tom Brady and, but for a few kneel-downs, the Patriots’ dynasty was over with under a minute remaining in Kansas City.

But there lay a New England savior in the form of a yellow flag, Ford having lined up in the neutral zone and given The Hoodie’s team life.

What happened next was beyond predictable.

Two plays later, Brady hit Rob Gronkowksi for a 25-yard gain to set up a Rex Burkhead touchdown.

The Patriots prevailed 37-31 in overtime.

Of course they did.

And all eyes — not to mention the expected barrage of social media distaste — turned in the direction of one player.

“It was hard for a brief amount of time, but like anything else, you have to get over it,” Ford said. “It’s team sports, man. You get caught in situations. I made a sloppy play. And then I had to get back and get right.

“And now I’m here. It’s surreal. It’s unbelievable.”

It’s storybook stuff.

The fallout of what happened and the reaction to it, along with the Chiefs switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base scheme, eventually led to a meeting of minds, player and team.

The sides decided to move on.

So the Chiefs traded Ford and his league-best seven forced fumbles and 13 sacks and 29 quarterback hits to the 49ers for a second-round pick in this year’s draft.

San Francisco awarded him a five-year deal for $87.5 million, and he recorded 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 11 games this season while dealing with injuries to his quadriceps and hamstring.

Know that Patrick Mahomes, the thrilling quarterback of the Chiefs, will earn everything he gets Sunday while staring into the teeth of the NFL’s best defensive line.

Much of the chaos created by the 49ers up front is a direct influence of players like Ford, lightning fast off the edge and able to open things up for others.

He’s a dream for an inside rusher and a nightmare for the guy assigned to block him.

That’s the crazy part in all this. Ford has been an NFL standout at his position for some time, a first-round pick of the Chiefs out of Auburn in 2014.

They didn’t trade him because he couldn’t play any more.

Just one snap. Something as simple and yet condemning as a yellow flag.

“Dee has thankfully moved on with his life and career,” said Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens. “That was a very hard thing for him last year. But he’s showing his greatness with a new team and is in the Super Bowl. We love him. We wish him the best, except on Sunday.

“You have to have a really strong mind to get past what happened. He obviously does. He’s back doing what he was born to do, as strong mentally as before.”

‘It’s inexcusable’

I’m not sure everyone was so forgiving.

Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark spoke about the penalty against Ford before this season’s AFC championship game against Tennessee.

“That’s a mental mistake,” Clark said. “That’s on yourself. You shoot yourself in the foot when you do things like that. It’s football. The ball’s right there. It’s simple — if the ball’s there — you put your hand behind the ball and you’re onsides. … Lining up offsides … it’s inexcusable.”

Ford was reminded of the comments Monday night.

“He’s right, it is inexcusable,” he said. “But don’t we all do it?”

At some point, yes.

But when it comes at home in the AFC championship game with a chance to bury, of all teams, the dreaded Patriots … you’re labeled the goat on a national scale.

On Sunday, Dee Ford will try to change that to hero.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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