For as long as Le’Veon Bell can remember, he’s watched every Super Bowl. And considering the 28-year-old has been playing football since the age of 4, that makes for a pretty long streak.
This year’s Super Bowl will be different. For the first time, the three-time All-Pro running back will be playing in it, albeit as a backup for the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I [was] always envisioning that I would be in the game,” Bell told reporters Tuesday. “So now that I'm eight years into the league and I finally got here, it's like a dream come true.”
Bell’s happiness at the opportunity shone through in his media session, so much so that if anyone was wondering whether he had regrets about sitting out the 2018 season due to a contract dispute with his old team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the answer was evident on his face.
That said, I decided to ask Bell on Tuesday if there were ever times in New York where he wished he’d never sat out that season. After all, while the decision eventually landed him with a rich new contract with the Jets, that arrangement also came with lots of losing, no shortage of drama — the head coach at the time, Adam Gase, didn’t want him — and an unceremonious release less than two years into the deal.
“Oh, no, no — that never crossed my mind,” Bell told me. “I feel like me sitting out, I've just got to look at it like it kinda helped me on the backend of my career because, I mean, literally last year when I came back, it felt like I was reset, I felt like I was a rookie all over again. I was so excited to get back on the field and really just get my gatherings back.
“And so I don't know, it kinda like reset my body. I felt like it's going to really help for the end of my career, the long end of my career.”
Stuck on a bad team in New York — and signed to a four-year, $52 million deal by a general manager in Mike Maccagnan who was fired a mere two months after he arrived — Bell resumed his normal workhorse role in 2019, logging 245 rushes for 789 yards and three touchdown and 66 catches for 461 yards and a touchdown.
His yards-per-carry average dropped sharply (from 4 in 2017 to 3.2 in 2019), and the patchwork line and lack of weapons around him didn’t help.
That all came to a head this year, when Bell was released in October after playing in only two games, logging a mere 19 rushes for 74 yards and catching three passes.
Bell had opportunities to play elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent, including some — like Miami and Buffalo — that would have given him a better opportunity to play more and approximate his prolific play with the Steelers.
Bell instead chose to sign with the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, who already had rookie first-round draft pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire and another promising young running back in Darrel Williams, all for a shot at winning games again after a rough couple years.
“Those two days were a really tough two days for me, but I made the decision to come here, you know, to play with a lot of great players and coach Andy Reid,” Bell said.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, saw Bell as someone who could help in the screen game and also in pass protection, where he could put his 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame to good use while also chipping in as a runner. That’s generally what he has done, ranking third among Chiefs running backs in snap percentage at 17.4 percent and third in regular season rushing yards with 254.
“I like him as a kid and I like him as a player,” Reid said. “He brings that veteran experience. He's been the best in the business at what he's done, he's handled this role well. He loves to play.”
And though Bell’s yards-per-carry average has improved to 4, the same it was his last year in Pittsburgh, injuries have hampered him. After his high point in Week 15 — a 32-29 win over New Orleans during which he had 15 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown, as well as the game-clinching 5-yard run — he was inactive for the AFC championship with a knee injury, though he’s expected to be available for the Super Bowl.
“He got a little bit nicked up — he's working through that,” Reid said. “He gave us a few good games there where we really needed him, and I go back to the New Orleans game and kind of [him] putting the icing on the cake there with his run. So there have been some real good production from him at important times during our season.”
Bell has also brought plenty to the Chiefs off the field, as he has served as a veteran mentor for Edwards-Helaire — who Bell calls a “little brother” — and Williams, who has emerged as the Chiefs’ primary workhorse this postseason.
“He came in with the right mindset, and I think that's a plus. That's something to learn from, being a veteran guy, because the way he approaches the game, the way he sees the game,” Williams said. “Just being able to pick his brain and see the things he sees and the way he does things and just his patience — it's different from watching it on TV. That's something I try to take from him. And, you know, that's something that I could implement in my game.”
Williams noted that Bell also enjoys being a Chief, which Bell was eager to make clear Tuesday.
“Everybody is kind of like a family here, and that's really one of the first things that I noticed when I got here,” Bell said. “I think that's kind of more me, like more my culture, I'm kind of an outgoing guy, I like having fun in the locker room and that's what these guys do. I mean, literally, everything is fun.
“Don't get me wrong … we handle business, but we're having fun doing it. There's a lot of fun that goes on, a lot of laughter. So this team is definitely one of the most, like, bonded and well-put together units that I've been a part of.”
So yes, once and for all, Bell is happy to let the past be the past, and he says he has no regrets — especially if he finally gets the Super Bowl win he has been coveting his entire life.
“At the end of the day, I came here to get to this game, and I'm here,” Bell said. “So I look at it like, man, I came to the right spot, I'm happy where I'm at. Now we've just got to finish the job.”
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