Super Bowl champion resounds as the ultimate title for Rowland’s Vonta Leach who became Robeson County’s most decorated player in professional football history Sunday night after the Baltimore Ravens held off the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
The noise level in our area after Colin Kaepernicks’s final incompletion likely registered on the Richter scale but perhaps nothing was more intense than the seismic activity at the home of Mike Brill, Leach’s former coach at South Robeson who has developed into a personal liaison for autograph, jersey and public appearance requests.
During the Super Bowl, Brill’s phone rang so many times he had to screen calls and force his wife, Beth, to lead conversation.
It wasn’t as easy going up against 50 of Leach’s closest friends and supporters who gathered around five different television setups during an invitation-only mega party at the Brill residence. With the kids stationed upstairs, many gathered around an outdoor viewing projection on the side of the house while the rest watched from the living room and back porch.
Leach was a featured element in Baltimore’s game plan, bookending the Super Bowl with an 8-yard reception on the Ravens’ first play from scrimmage and a rush to kill clock in the waning seconds before an intentional safety. After nearly five hours of football, commercials and Beyonce, fans of No. 44 erupted in jubilation.
“Everyone was picking my brain during the game and Beth had to calm me down I was so nervous,” said Brill, who had his interior decked out in game-worn memorabilia and Ravens paraphernalia. “I probably stomped a mud hole in my hardwood floor. When you’re coaching, nobody notices you, but everyone kept talking to me during the game and asking my thoughts. I’m retired, but it was stressful.”
Spotlighted on national television several times during Baltimore’s wild-card run to the championship, Leach’s popularity across Raven Nation and southeastern North Carolina bubbled over during his eighth season of professional football, a campaign that included another invitation to the Pro Bowl.
Brill wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of text messages last week and random trips to the supermarket that turned into half-hour updates on Leach. Imagine the volume of calls Brill received late Sunday night after a former player he calls a son hoisted the Lombardi Trophy high inside the energy-deficient Superdome.
“I finally just turned the phone off and cried like a 2-year-old like I said I would,” Brill said. “We love Vonta and my family is so excited for him. I can’t even describe the feeling. We’ll probably go see him if they have a victory parade this week in Baltimore. This is something Vonta will never forget.”
Leach returns home soon with professional sports’ ultimate prize after capping off one of the most noteworthy seasons in franchise history. Along the way, he has inspired area youth to never give up on their dreams and has represented Rowland to its fullest potential on a national platform.
It’s time to hand the keys to Robeson County over to Vonta, devote a February day — maybe a week — in his honor. From a football and charitable contributions perspective, he’s earned it.