There are benefits to being on the same team as wide receiver Tee Higgins even if you don’t play football.
Higgins helped Clemson win a national championship in his second season and will try to finish that same pattern Sunday night with the Cincinnati Bengals as they face the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI (6:30 p.m., NBC).
His online gaming friends, especially one, already feel like winners.
Higgins plays Call of Duty, a first-person shooter war game, and sometime does surprise giveaways. Before the AFC championship against the Kansas City Chiefs, for example, he handed out tickets.
Cincinnati resident Max Hulett, who has been playing Call of Duty with Higgins for a few months, already had tickets and said it was part of an anniversary celebration with his girlfriend. Higgins bought them plane tickets instead.
“I have been jumping up and down for two days!” Hulett posted on his Twitter account two days before the Bengals beat the Chiefs, 27-24, in overtime to earn a Super Bowl berth for the first time since the 1980s. “He found out me and my girl were driving for our anniversary to KC and upgraded us with flights. … Great guy.”
“He said, ‘I’ll hook you up. I’ll fly you out,” Hulett told Cincinnati’s WXIX Fox 19, which discovered the story and contacted him in Kansas City.
Higgins had a big game with six catches for 106 yards. The most important were a 9-yarder to begin Cincinnati’s overtime possession and an 8-yarder to get kicker Evan McPherson in range for a game-winning field goal.
“I knew he was going to make it,” Higgins said in a Zoom call with reporters. “When it went through, I jumped up and I was like, ‘Man, we’re going to the Super Bowl!’ ”
Cincinnati has been to the Super Bowl only twice, losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the 1981 and 1988 seasons. The Bengals also have two other starters who played at Clemson, sixth-year defensive lineman D.J. Reader and rookie offensive lineman Jackson Carman. Former Tigers offensive lineman Tremayne Anchrum, a 2020 draft pick, plays for Rams. They won a championship in 2000 against the Tennessee Titans and got back in 2019 against the New England Patriots.
Higgins has 1,091 yards and six touchdowns on 74 receptions. In the past two games, including a 19-16 victory in the divisional round against the Titans, he has 19 catches for 199 yards.
“My second year in college, I went to the national championship (as Clemson beat Alabama),” Higgins said. “Now it’s my second year in the league and I’m going to the Super Bowl. I’m blessed.”
Higgins as a sophomore had 12 touchdowns and 936 yards in helping Clemson to a 15-0 record and a 44-16 blowout of Alabama in the championship. The next season, he had 13 touchdowns and 1,167 yards as the Tigers returned to the title game, losing to quarterback Joe Burrow and LSU, 42-25.
Burrow casually and famously puffed on a cigar after beating Clemson and did so again after beating Kansas City, this time with Higgins and the rest of their teammates in the locker room.
“Smoke all in the air,” Higgins said. “I’m ready to go back and celebrate some more. … The job’s not done. We all know that.”
Todd Shanesy covers Clemson athletics for the USA TODAY network.