Locals: Ridley has a lot to prepare for

Published 12:01 am Friday, February 3, 2012

NATCHEZ — Super Bowl Sunday was a special time for Natchez’s Stevan Ridley when he was growing up.

Not only did it mean he could watch the two best teams play for the ultimate prize in his favorite sport, it also meant his family and friends were coming together to celebrate his birthday.

“His birthday is Jan. 27,” Stevan’s mother Carolyn Ridley said. “What we always did when he was a kid was had a Super Bowl party for him. We would delay (his birthday party) a week and split the TVs in the living room and have his friends over for a Super Bowl party.”

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Obviously, this year Stevan has a prior engagement for Super Bowl Sunday that will prevent him from being able to make it to his traditional Super Bowl birthday party, but Carolyn said he is perfectly fine about missing it this season.

“We reflected back on how neat that is (this week),” Carolyn said. “We talked about this year, instead of the Super Bowl party, actually being able to play in the Super Bowl for his birthday. He said it’s one of the best birthdays he’s had.”

Stevan has come a long way in just a few years. In 2006 he was dominating for Trinity Episcopal, by 2008 he was carrying the ball for LSU, two years later he was the team’s leading rusher and named All-SEC and now he will appear in the Super Bowl as a rookie running back.

“At 23 to end up with the Patriots and to end up at the Super Bowl is special,” Carolyn said. “We talked a lot about the comparison of where we are now and where we were last year preparing for the draft and the combine and waiting to see what would happen. What a difference a year makes. That’s been our reflection.”

Ridley has been unavailable for comment this week as he prepares for Sunday’s game, but Carolyn said the Patriots are treating this week like it’s business as usual.

“Most of this week has been their routine schedule,” Carolyn said. “He said they’ve not really gotten out a whole lot. They are trying to keep them focused on the game.”

Carolyn said her and the rest of the Ridley family are staying just outside of Indianapolis and arrived Wednesday. She said she is hoping Stevan will get some free time for her to at least make an attempt at keeping the tradition running.

“We’re not sure if he has some free time while we’re here, but we’re going to try to surprise him and do a little special birthday something while we’re up here,” she said. “I know he’s just looking forward to some down time.”

Stevan was inactive for the AFC Championship game against Baltimore, but Carolyn said he would be active for the game Sunday.

“He’s expecting to play but nothing is guaranteed until we actually get there and the game unfolds,” she said.

The Patriots’ recent success has given many of the veterans on the team plenty of Super Bowl experience. But, if Ridley happens to be searching for advice on Super Bowls from a Natchez perspective, there a couple of Natchez-natives that have been involved in the big game themselves.

Allen Brown played on the first two Super Bowl winning teams but was unable to participate in Super Bowl I or Super Bowl II due to injury.

“I got hurt in both conference championship games,” he said. “I missed on both Super Bowls, but I got a ring for each one.”

Brown played for legendary coach Vince Lombardi, and he said Lombardi’s Super Bowl preparation was similar to Bill Belichick’s.

“In general we prepared the same way we always practiced,” Brown said.

Brown said some many of his teammates had the same thoughts that he believes may be going through the minds of Ridley and his teammates heads the night before the game.

“You are dwelling on the fact that you want to hold on to the ball and not make any mistakes and see how it comes out,” he said. “In the end you have to cut down on fumbles and mistakes to win a game like that.”

Brown said he would be pulling for both teams Sunday night.

“Stevan is on the Patriots, and I am pulling for him, and I’m pulling for Eli since he played at Ole Miss, and that’s where I played.”

Natchez resident Joe Fortunato also played in the NFL Championship Game in 1963 during his playing career for the Bears. Although it was before the advent of the Super Bowl, Fortunato said winning the title was still a big deal.

“It was a big thing for us,” he said. “That’s what you play for. You play to win the (championship). It was a great experience for me and a great thrill.”

Fortunato said one change he sees in the game since his playing days is that players were tougher back in the 50s and 60s.

“It was pretty tough when we played,” he said. “I played 13 years and only missed one game.”

Fortunato said he did not have any advice for Ridley or any of the players participating in the game.

Catherine Fortunato, Joe’s wife, added that her and Joe both wish Ridley the best whether the Patriots win or lose.