Canadian offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif never dreamed of playing in the Super Bowl, but it has become reality.
Duvernay-Tardif went from a relatively unknown football player at McGill University to North America’s biggest stage since the turn of the last decade. He was selected in the sixth round, 200th overall by Kansas City in the 2014 NFL draft after he won the J.P. Metras Trophy as the Most Outstanding Lineman in Canadian university football.
The 28-year-old Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Quebec native has become a mainstay at right guard for the Chiefs, starting 57 games through the last six NFL seasons. He played in the AFC Conference Championship game one year ago when Kansas City lost to the eventual Super Bowl winner, the New England Patriots. Duvernay-Tardif is a starter along the offensive line for the high-powered Chiefs offence led by franchise quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes led Kansas City back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years by throwing for 294 yards and three touchdowns during a comeback 35-24 win over the Tennessee Titans in the AFC championship game the past Sunday. The Chiefs are trying to earn the second Super Bowl title in their history with a key Canadian paving the way up front.
Dr. Duvernay-Tardif is the only active player in the NFL with the doctor designation. The six-foot-five, 312-pound Duvernay-Tardif took time with the media for a wide-ranging question and answer session as he prepares for the Super Bowl.
Q: Having you been getting any sense of what it means locally in Quebec?
LDT: I try not to read the newspaper too much. My mom and a few other people sent me it was a kid looking at a jersey of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif with a Habs jersey in the garbage. I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is real; people are really behind it.’ Through social media and the interviews you get a feel of the support and I’m really grateful for that. Three weeks from now I’m probably going to take a minute for myself and just look back on that journey that just happened and realize how crazy it was. Right now my job is just to focus on the game plan and getting ready for the 49ers.
Q: What does it mean for Kansas City to finally be going to a Super Bowl?
LDT: The first year I got here we missed the playoffs by a little bit. And then the second year we made the playoffs through the wild card. Since then we’ve been winning the division title for four years in a row. Last year we lost that game against the Patriots in a critical overtime situation — everybody remembered that. For all those guys that have been here last year, it was payback this year. Now we won that game and we’re heading to the big one, it’s really a privilege. It does represent a lot for everybody on the team, but also for the city of Kansas city and Montreal and Canada. Just to feel all those people behind us really give us energy to give everything we got.
Q: Why have the Chiefs been able to come back after falling behind early in the playoffs?
LDT: For sure the last two weeks, there’s a pattern whether it was against Houston or Tennessee but I do feel that it happens for different reasons. The first go around against Houston there was three critical mistakes, special teams-wise and on defence a missed coverage and boom it was 21-0. This past week I felt like it was more on our shoulders as an offence because we were not able to score on our first two possessions. We’re for sure going to have to address that and make sure we come out strong because the further you get along the better the teams are and you cannot really allow yourself to be behind.
LDT: No matter what happened, those last two weeks were really good learning opportunities. As a team, I think we all showed character because we were able to stick together, nobody was panicking, nobody was pointing fingers at each other. We were confident that we were going to be able to pull it off. If we’re able to fix it and if we’re able to have that kind of confidence going into a big game, I think it’s going to really help us.
Q: How long did you celebrate the AFC championship before you went into Super Bowl mode?
LDT: I don’t know how sometimes you see in the movies people winning and then going out and partying and all that stuff. But I feel like after playing 70 plays on the O-line, getting contact and getting physical every play at minus 10 degrees Celsius, you cannot go out after a game. I just went back home, grabbed dinner with family and friends and I went to bed. I think that’s the way you have to approach it because the next day I was back in the gym getting ready for the week of practice. Being in the playoffs is a commitment at least for me, it’s a sacrifice. You want to make sure your body is alright and do everything you can to master the game plan. I celebrated the moment on the field, I went back home grabbed a nice dinner and the next morning when I woke up my mind was already in a Super Bowl mindset.
Q: How important is it to get the Super Bowl for Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid?
LDT: Coach Reid has been more than a coach, he’s also a mentor. I feel like we’re so privileged to have him as a team, as a city because the Chiefs really have not been winning before coach Reid got here. The team that he’s been able put together over the last five years is really talented and I think we owe him to go all the way this year because he’s worked so much for us in the past. Personally, he’s the one who understood what I was trying to do with medical school and football and gave me the opportunity to combine both at the highest level. If it was not for him, I don’t think I would’ve been able to do it, so I’m really grateful. Personally, it’s something that I do think about in terms of extra motivation.
Q: What can you takeaway from the offensive success against Houston and Tennessee to carry forward into the Super Bowl?
LDT: Both Tennessee and San Francisco defence’s really rely on their D-line and I feel like if you’re able to control the line of scrimmage, whether it’s run or pass, you do give your team a lot of chances for scoring. Especially when you have Pat [Mahomes] in the backfield that’s so good at making the read and breaking down the defence and knowing which window is going to be open for throws. When you have that kind of speed at the wide receiver position, whether it’s Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Sammy Watkins or Travis Kelce we just have so much athletic ability at the skill positions that if we give time to Pat he’s able to extend drives, make plays and score points. That’s what we need to be able to do against probably one of the best defensive lines in the NFL.
Q: What makes NFL MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes special?
LDT: Pat, he has a tremendous arm. But I feel like over the course of last year and this year — it’s crazy what he’s able to do — breaking down coverage, knowing where to throw the ball, what’s going to be open and also directing the offensive line. He sees everything, he sends the line the right way, he makes the right call to the wide receivers to make sure that he runs the perfect routes to take advantage of that blitz or coverage. He’s just a great player all around with tremendous athletic ability. The way he’s been able to run the ball himself over the last two weeks made him even more of a threat. Just an all-around player and a great leader that’s probably going to be one of the greatest.
Q: Do the Chiefs have an edge at quarterback in the Super Bowl?
LDT: Yes. For sure I do think we have the edge at quarterback. I think Pat’s the greatest quarterback right now playing in the league.
Q: Can you believe some of the throws Mahomes is able to make or pull off?
LDT: Sometimes we look at the jumbotron and we see the instant replay between TV commercials and we’re like, ‘Oh my God, how did he do that?!’ It’s not only the throw, it’s also the head fake and the look to another target while he knows he’s going to throw it elsewhere. The way he’s able to play with all the different coverage elements to make them believe he’s going to do a certain thing and then boom create that little opening that’s going to allow Trav [Kelce] to catch it for a touchdown, it’s unbelievable. It’s almost not human the amount of things he’s able to process at the same time.’
Q: What’s it like to be with Mahomes in the huddle or on the sidelines?
LDT: When he comes by the O-line bench, he’s always super positive. He always has that look in his eyes that he’s going to go out there and fight and score the points we need to win. That has been true for pretty much all of the games that he’s played in. It for sure gives us a lot of confidence up front when we know he’s behind us and giving his best to make plays.
Q: How would you describe Tyreek Hill’s speed?
LDT: It’s amazing how fast he’s able to run and make it look that easy. Sometimes you see clips of him running and he’s mic’d up and you hear him, making noise when he’s running, but you look at him on the image and it’s so smooth and relaxed. It’s crazy how he’s able to make those cuts and run with that kind of speed. It’s not just for him to make plays but also to extend the area of the field that the defence has to cover and allow guys like Sammy [Watkins] or Travis [Kelce] to get under his route and create another window. It really allows you to stretch the defence and stretch all the windows in different coverage.
Q: Through the course of your football career, have you ever played for a championship?
LDT: No. This will be my first championship ever. I feel like after every season I’ve played football, every time you go to the playoffs, you always finish out the season losing. This is the only time so far in my career that I have an opportunity to finish the season winning and after that there’s nothing else, you’ve reached the top. That gives me goosebumps to think about it. That’s what it means for me.
Q: When you were at McGill University did you ever imagine playing in a Super Bowl?
LDT: No. For me throughout my whole career, it’s been one-step-at-a-time approach. When I played in CEGEP my goal was try to get to medical school and still play football. When I got to McGill, it was to be the best football player possible. It was only my third or fourth year that I focused on trying to be a CFL player. Then a couple scouts from the NFL are coming to see your game and then it’s … try to get drafted and then try to get a starting job and a new contract and so on. It was only once I started being a consistent starter for the Kansas City Chiefs that I started having the vision of going all the way to the top and winning the Super Bowl.