MIAMI — The connections between Super Bowl LIV and the Chicago Bears are actually pretty minimal, but the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers both have multiple ties to the Chicagoland area.
Kansas City’s backup linebacker and special teams demon, Ben Niemann is a minor cult hero in Missouri and Kansas, thanks in part to his Cinderella story just making the team in 2018 as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Iowa, and more so thanks to his nickname, “Steaming Niemann,” hung on him by fellow inside ‘backer Reggie Ragland.
However, Niemann is a major celebrity right now in the Sycamore/DeKalb area after a starring role at Sycamore High School led him to the Big 10.
Niemann’s dad Jay is a longtime high school and college coach and Ben is a typical coach’s son, steeped in knowledge of the game and willing to do anything to contribute to the team.
Following Niemann’s first NFL start as a rookie in ’18 due to an injury to Anthony Hitchens, Ragland said, “Steaming Niemann was the truth.”
“I love Ben. He’s one of those Iowa guys who is real smart. My [former] position coach [Mark DeLeone] is from Iowa. My linebacker next to me, Hitch, is from Iowa. I guess it’s the Iowa thing they got going on.
“Steaming Niemann, Ben, is very smart and physical too. I’m very happy for him.”
DeLeone became the Bears inside linebackers coach this past season.
“Back then I was just trying to make the team,” Niemann says.
“So I’m definitely happy to be in this position, and there was a lot that went into getting this far. I’m happy to be here.”
Nick Allegretti grew up in Frankfort, Illinois, and was the Chiefs’ seventh-round pick out of the University of Illinois last spring.
Now he’s the sixth offensive lineman, first guy off the bench at any position.
But even while he was being drafted, Allegretti wasn’t sure if he’d be a Chief or not.
“Brett Veach (Chiefs G.M.), the first thing he said was, ‘Pretty cool you’re blocking for Patrick Mahomes, huh?’”
“He didn’t say, ‘We’re about to draft you.’ All he said was that.”
Allegretti thought it might be Veach’s way of pitching the Illinois offensive lineman to join Kansas City as an undrafted free agent, but draft him the Chiefs did.
In part it was because of his great versatility and character, playing four years under Lovie Smith at Illinois, where he eventually became a team captain.
Allegretti told the Chiefs in house web site, “I don’t remember the exact words, but [Coach Smith] said something like, ‘Nick, you’re gonna have a real shot to play this game for a long time.’
“That sunk in,” says Allegretti.
“I was a Bears fan growing up—sorry, I’ve changed that now—but that was the guy I watched on the sidelines for most of my childhood. So to have that guy now be my coach and tell me I can play for a long time was a very cool experience and gave me confidence. It was awesome.”
Chiefs DT Khalen Saunders is actually from Missouri but played his college ball at Western Illinois, becoming the first Leatherneck ever invited to the Senior Bowl in 2019, where he gained some notoriety for having an excellent week of practice, running home for the birth of his daughter and then returning to notch the first sack of the game.
Lastly and perhaps most interestingly to Bears fans is Chiefs QBs coach and St. Rita High School and Northwestern University alum Mike Kafka.
Just 32 years old, Kafka was mentored by on the Chiefs staff.
Following a six-year journeyman NFL career in which he was with seven teams, Kafka joined Andy Reid’s staff as a quality control coach in Nagy’s last year as the offensive coordinator before coming to the Bears, and took over the quarterbacks job when Nagy left.
The Eagles coveted Kafka for their offensive coordinator job, as did the Bears earlier this month, but Reid convinced him to stay with the Chiefs.
He is being watched closely as perhaps the next in a growing line of extremely successful NFL wunderkind young coaches.
This article originally ran on profootballweekly.com.