Our series on ASN’s 50 greatest NFL championship competitors of the past 50 years continues with No. 27 Earl Cooper, originally published on Jan. 26.
Earl Cooper isn’t much for talking about his NFL days. But he did find great pleasure in showing his high school-aged daughter clips of his touchdown pass in Super Bowl XVI.
“A lot of it came down to when I left the NFL, I put that part of my life behind me,” Cooper, a first-round pick out of Rice, told Chuck Pool last year in a Super Bowl Memories story on the Owls website.
“My daughter is a senior in high school right now and she was so excited to see some highlights from that first Super Bowl, including my touchdown catch, but other than watching it with her, I’ve never really watched old highlights. It was a great ride and it was nice to see her reaction, but as I said, I pretty much put those times behind me. It was a happy chapter in my life, but I don’t talk about it much these days.”
Cooper played in two Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers, who made him the No. 13 pick overall in the 1980 NFL Draft. The 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-21, in 1982 and the Miami Dolphins, 38-16, in Super Bowl XIX in 1985.
The touchdown pass was in that first victory, when Cooper caught an 11-yarder from Joe Montana to cap a Super Bowl-record 92-yard drive. That play put Cooper on the Sports Illustrated cover.
As a rookie in 1980, Cooper finished second in league receptions with 83, behind Kellen Winslow’s 89. In the following season’s NFC playoffs, he was also an integral part of the drive that led to “The Catch” against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship game.
When Cooper reflects back, he sees simpler times — “ESPN was just starting out, and while it seemed like a lot of media, it was nothing like it is now,” he said.
It’s also clear to Cooper, who is now a teacher in Texas, that he may not have fully been aware of what he was taking part in.
“I didn’t know that I had Hall of Fame teammates or that I was catching a famous touchdown pass,” he told Pool. “I didn’t think that way at the time. The one thing I did was have all my teammates sign a poster at (Super Bowl XIX), but it’s all wrinkled up.”