Gridiron reunites Illini players, coaches

By Courtney Linehan

Colts receiver Aaron Moorehead had a game plan as he prepared for his trip to Miami.

Call the opposing coach. Invite him to lunch. Catch up on old times.

That seemed completely natural to Moorehead, who looked at a week in Miami preparing for the Super Bowl as a perfect opportunity for a reunion with Ron Turner, the Bears offensive coordinator and Moorehead’s head coach during Turner’s tenure at Illinois.

Moorehead and teammate Kelvin Hayden are former Illini who will be squaring off against Turner and the Chicago Bears in Sunday’s Super Bowl. But despite their connections to the Monsters of the Midway, both players say their top priority in Miami is getting ready for gameday.

“If you go down there and lose, you’re just like all the other teams in the league,” Moorehead said in a teleconference last week.

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    Hayden and Moorehead never played together at Illinois as Hayden’s first season in Champaign was Moorehead’s rookie year in the NFL.

    Hayden began his college career at Joliet Junior College, where he was the NJCAA National Offensive Player of the Year, racking up 1,297 yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore. At Illinois, he played wide receiver for one season before switching to cornerback in 2004.

    Hayden is now the second-string cornerback for the Colts, and is preparing to face off against the offense he executed four seasons ago while playing for Turner.

    “We’ll be watching film and I catch myself calling out plays sometimes,” Hayden said.

    Moorehead signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2003. He started seven of 43 games as an Illini, although he played in every game of his senior season, logging 32 catches for 399 yards and two touchdowns as a senior.

    Moorehead sees regular action at wide receiver for the Colts. So far this season he has eight catches for 82 yards, including a touchdown against the Houston Texans on Dec. 24, 2006.

    “I really don’t think I’ve come anywhere near reaching the potential I have,” Moorehead said. “The past three years I didn’t have a lot of opportunities, but when I have had them I’ve taken care and played well.”

    Despite this being his fourth season in the NFL, it is Moorehead’s first time playing in the postseason, let along making it to the Super Bowl. Walter Young, one of Moorehead’s closest friends from Illinois and now a wide receiver with the Pittsburgh Steelers, said he knows his former teammate is ready for the game.

    “Obviously, getting to the game is the pinnacle of most players’ careers,” Young said. “If you have the opportunity to play and win one, it’s even better. That’s where Aaron is right now. He has the opportunity to win one.”

    Young says Moorehead and Hayden will have the most success if they can just forget about the weight of the game – which he admits is no easy task. But Young says treating the Super Bowl like any given Sunday will maximize any player’s success.

    “People say you can feel the energy in the air, and that’s definitely true,” Young said. “It’s the biggest game in sports. Millions of people around the world are watching you. But you have to make it as normal as possible so you’re not putting too much pressure on yourself.”

    Adding to the pressure is the fact that both Hayden and Moorehead are Chicago natives and grew up as die hard Bears fans. Hayden says he always tries to watch the Bears if the Colts have a later game, and that he cheered for his hometown team throughout the season.

    On Sunday, though, that will all be set aside.

    “I don’t want to go back to Chicago as part of the team that lost to the Bears,” Hayden said. “I want to be part of the team that beat them.”