LOS ANGELES — In what will likely be his last NFL game, Andrew Whitworth is preparing to face his former team in Super Bowl LVI.
While he will be competing for a team he is committed to in the Los Angeles Rams, Whitworth and his wife Melissa say they still love the team that drafted him in 2006.
"We're going to the Super Bowl, we're playing the Bengals," Melissa Whitworth said. "How does it get any better than that?"
The Whitworths spent 11 seasons in Cincinnati before heading to L.A. in 2017, but no amount of time will change their support of the Bengals.
"There's actually a really funny video of Melissa, when they make the kick at the end of the game against Kansas City, of her and the kids like running through the suite, just going absolutely crazy before our game started," Andrew said.
That's right: The family celebrated the Bengals' AFC championship win before kickoff at SoFi Stadium. Melissa said she never imagined the two teams would face off in the Super Bowl.
"When the playoffs started, I was like there's no way it ends up being us and them, but when it got down to the championship games, of course, I was rooting for this match-up," Melissa said. "One, because we're rooting for Joe Burrow every day except for the day we play him...he's so rad, he's so good. And then two, we love the fan base. We love the people of Cincinnati."
The Whitworths befriended Burrow while he was rehabbing his torn ACL in L.A. last summer. Both former LSU Tigers, Burrow said he would go to Whitworth's house and watch games on Sundays. The two even spent their birthdays together.
"They got a really special one right now in Joe Burrow," Andrew said.
Though they want to beat the Bengals this Sunday, the two said their hearts will always be in Cincinnati.
"Cincinnati was a place that we had played at for so long and were so ingrained in the community and a part of that community that really didn't see ourselves as football players," Andrew said. "We saw ourselves as people who were a part of a city and we loved them."
When they did leave, Whitworth said he received a handwritten letter from owner Mike Brown lamenting the team's loss after the organization made the decision not to match his other offers. It's framed in their living room.
"If that's what they felt the best decision is, that's their right," Andrew said. "At the end of the day, we love them. And we couldn't appreciate our time there more and we'll always take our kids back there, we'll always go watch Bengals games — that'll never be a hesitation. So at this point, we look back on it with nothing but fond memories."
At 40, Whitworth is now the oldest active NFL player following 44-year-old Tom Brady's retirement. While he would not say if the Super Bowl would be his last game, Whitworth noted the significance that both teams he loves will face off as he nears the end of his career.
"There's two franchises that didn't win many games before I got there, and now here they are, both in Super Bowls," Andrew said. "And what a better way than to walk off and say, 'job's done.'"
Both Andrew and Melissa believe this Bengals' core of players will continue to succeed.
"They're gonna win a lot of games and this will not be their last Super Bowl," Melissa said. "They're going to be good for a long time, so the city has that to look forward to."
"Oh yeah," Andrew agreed.
It's Andrew Whitworth's second Super Bowl, appearing for the Rams in 2018, when he played under the now-Bengals head coach Zac Taylor.
"The professionalism and leadership he provided in L.A., he always had so much respect for the Bengals and the staff and organization as a whole," coach Taylor said of Andrew Whitworth. "I'm glad to have a relationship with Whit, he did things the right way and set a high standard for those he's around."
Taylor and Whitworth have kept in touch, and exchanged texts after their respective conference title wins.
"Both places have my heart and both places have people I believe in. Really special and cool moment for me to be able to play in this game," Andrew said.
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