Super Bowl LVI comes full circle for Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth, going against the only other team he has known in his NFL career in the Bengals.
"Obviously I've heard from a ton of people over there," Whitworth said during a video conference with reporters Monday. "And yeah, it's really cool and really special. I mean, having a relationship with a lot of the staff over there still, and also some of the players, and then obviously, all the relationships that we had over our time there in the city, it's a really special place to us. And I think I told (Bengals head coach) Zac Taylor this last night when we spoke, is (that) both places have my heart and both places have people I believe in."
Cincinnati was where Whitworth began his career and spent his first 11 seasons after being drafted in the second round in 2006 out of LSU before signing with the Los Angeles in free agency in March 2017.
The Bengals are a much different team, of course, than when Whitworth departed and signed with the Rams.
Marvin Lewis, Whitworth's head coach during the entirety of his Cincinnati tenure, was replaced by Taylor, who spent two seasons as a member of the Rams' coaching staff that overlapped with Whitworth's first two seasons in Los Angeles before taking the job in Cincinnati.
The Bengals offense is now led by quarterback 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow – like Whitworth, an LSU product – after Whitworth spent the majority of his tenure their blocking for Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton. Moreover, Cincinnati kicked off its current run to the Super Bowl by winning its first playoff game in 31 years after getting eliminated in the Wild Card round in each of its six appearances during Whitworth's tenure.
Whitworth still watches the Bengals both near and from afar. He said he and his wife, Melissa, have been "tuned in the whole time" throughout that playoff run.
"I was so amped for the (NFC Championship) game yesterday, but then also at the same time, I could hardly couldn't stop looking at the screen because I knew how close they were to pulling it off," Whitworth said. "And what an awesome accomplishment that is."
In five seasons with the Rams, Whitworth has won two NFC championships and reached the Super Bowl twice (Super Bowl LVI being the second appearance), making the playoffs in four of those five years overall. He's been voted a captain by his Rams teammates every year he's been with the organization, becoming an important voice in the locker room.
"It's amazing," Rams head coach Sean McVay said during a Jan. 28 video conference with reporters. "What a great job he did of being such a great leader, great player, productive player, and doing so many things for the Bengals. Then he's done exactly that and more here for us. He's been so important. These players, the ones that you love and care about so much, like those two, like the Whitworths of the world, the Aaron Donalds. They are really that easy extra motivation to make sure that you're doing everything in your power to help put them in good positions with the little things that we can control."
Whitworth said the Super Bowl will be "special."
"Really, really special and cool moment for me to get to play in this game and play against a place that means so much to me," Whitworth said.