It hadn't been done since Joe Flacco in 2012. Before that it was Kurt Warner with these very same Rams back in 1999. It certainly only happens once in a blue moon but on Sunday night it happened again. An FCS player took home Super Bowl MVP honors. This year's accolade went to one Cooper Kupp and it was perhaps the most impactful one in recent memory.
Kupp's performance against the Bengals told anyone with even the slightest amount of football knowledge that he was more than deserving of the game's MVP. He caught eight passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns, most of which came on a final crunch-time drive for Los Angeles that will undoubtedly go down in Super Bowl lore. Kupp stood on the post-game stage, proudly representing not only the Rams but also the Eastern Washington Eagles, as he hoisted one of the NFL's most prestigious honors.
Year in and year out FCS guys get drafted and find themselves on NFL rosters. That in itself is not all that uncommon. Fewer, though, are able to work their way into a starting role, at least immediately. Even fewer still are able to become the difference maker on their team. And only the fewest of the few are able to put on a jaw-dropping show on football's biggest stage. But Kupp did all that.
It all began back in 2017 when the Rams selected him in the third round (69th overall) of that year’s draft. Unless you were a fan of EWU and Big Sky football, you probably didn't even know who he was.
In college he had played in some big time games for Eastern and had established himself as one of the best receivers in the Big Sky Conference. But even then he had to prove himself coming out of high school. When came onto the scene as a freshman in 2013, Kupp had zero college offers.
Fast forward a few years and he had won the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year award twice and went down as one the best to ever do it in Cheney. Kupp ended his career as a Walter Peyton Award (the FCS' equivalent to the Heisman Trophy) recipient.
As great as all that is, the Eagles are not necessarily at the forefront of national relevancy in terms of college football. They're an FCS program (albeit a notable one) with a current school enrollment of just under 13,500. EWU games hardly get broadcasted anywhere outside the Pacific Northwest. The Eags have one national title to their name and that was well before Kupp was there. They live in the shadow of Washington and Washington State and have for essentially their entire existence.
Thanks to Kupp, though, that might be changing. No doubt Rams fans near and far know where Eastern Washington is in light of his outstanding league-leading season. His Super Bowl performance, though, put the Eagles on the map. It put Big Sky football on the map.
Kupp became the first ever player hailing from the conference to author a touchdown in the Super Bowl during the second quarter on Sunday. His former league and school couldn't have been more excited about it either. It was a big time boost to a level of football the country isn't used to seeing.
As the NFL now transitions to the Combine and Draft portions of the year, Kupp's performance reminds us to not overlook the FCS prospects (of which 21 are invited to Indianapolis in a few weeks). It reminds us, too, in the grander picture that any school can serve as a viable path to the NFL. Alabama and Georgia aren't the only gateways.
Kupp's MVP performance is historical for the Rams no doubt, but the impact of it is and will be felt far outside the city of Los Angeles. They're feeling it in Cheney this week, they're feeling it in Big Sky country and, perhaps most importantly, players at small schools across the country are feeling it. There's a renewed hope in places like Eastern Washington that maybe... just maybe... the next Cooper Kupp is in their back yard right now.