The LA Rams take on the Cincinnati Bengals this week in Super Bowl LVI and the game has special meaning for those who remember the late Chris Wesseling. MJ @47yards shares his thoughts on ‘The Wesseling Bowl’.
I am still new to Twitter. A couple hundred followers who I’m forever grateful for wanting to read any of my random NFL-related musings. A few likes here and a few retweets there. Then last weekend I tweeted something that resulted in over 800 likes within hours, easily a record for my contributions to the Twittersphere. It had absolutely nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with the subject of my tweet, Chris Wesseling.
February 5, 2022 marked the first anniversary of the death of NFL.com writer Chris Wesseling after this brave battle with cancer. To mark the date, I tweeted a remembrance message about Wess which clearly struck a chord with his fans in America, here in the UK and in the wider NFL world. I never met Wess, although he was kind enough to reply to a few of my tweets and like a few posts. It was typical of the man, generous with those who engaged with him constructively on the subject of football. He had a profound impact on my appreciation of the game and my view of recent NFL events.
The Pound Factor – The Wess Effect
I’ve been an NFL fan since about 1990, but had an on/off level of interest until about 2016 when a co-worker from Texas helped rekindle my interest. I started listening to podcasts and picked a particular favorite, Around the NFL. The main reason for this was that it looked like four friends, the same age as me, sitting around a ball talking. It was instructive but above all fun, as the four friends spontaneously exchanged conversation. Dan Hanzus, Marc Sessler, and Gregg Rosenthal were all awesome, and I loved every time their producer Ricky Hollywood got involved in the chat.
Then there was this 4th guy. Chris Wesselling. The postman. I found that the highlights of each episode for me were Wess’ take on the topic of the day. He was funny and witty but there was a depth to him and his knowledge of the sport. A wisdom. Almost as if he were a timeless sage who had watched this wondrous game ever since it was first played.
Wess was above all a writer. I find myself revisiting his articles again and again, with the regret that there are no more articles to come. He was a poet. If you follow the NFL, you simply must seek out some of its in-depth articles. Read 2015’s “The Ohio River Offense,” which was his first long form for NFL.com (hard to believe, given his mastery). Read Wess’ QB Index from September 2020, written while he was in the middle of his chemotherapy treatment. His writings should be displayed in the Hall of Fame. He was a craftsman. Wess never lost a word, his creativity and effective use of language are unmatched. Read everything he ever wrote.
I wish I could write like Wess. He is, in part, the inspiration to me for my passion for the NFL by writing for NinetyNineYards and podcasting on our Draft Talk team. I was inspired by his story. His ascent from Tybee Island to working for NFL.com, via rotoworld.com (and I know we have Gregg to thank for identifying Wess’ unique talent). I was inspired by his courage as he battled cancer. He was taken from this world too soon, and last year it felt like the “world” of the NFL was crying in unison with his wife Lakisha, young son Linc and his friends and colleagues.
The Wesseling Bowl
Twelve months later and whatever faith you have or not, it’s both curious and wonderful that Super Bowl LVI is going down between the LA Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals. Wess Cincinnati Bengals. He had a love-hate relationship with the Bengals. He put together a file to document his “break” with them. You only go to great lengths motivated by something you truly love. They (Wess and the Bengals) had known enough heartache that Wess coined the term “Wesstivus” which signaled a tradition of celebrating the Bengals inevitably being “1 and done” each time they reached the playoffs. But not this year.
The 2021 Cincinnati Bengals exceeded all expectations. Wess was a huge fan of Joe Burrow. He thought there was every chance that Burrow could lead the Bengals out of the wasteland and back to more frequent NFL relevance. He never thought it could happen so quickly. As the Bengals progressed through the playoffs, their support across the fan spectrum without a playoff team grew exponentially. It’s because of our love and respect for Chris Wesseling. The success of the Bengals brings Wess back to the forefront of our minds. Their journey has been infectious and exciting.
Make it a Wesseling Bowl
Of course, for it to be a true Wesseling Bowl, their opponent had to be the LA Rams. The Rams of Lakisha Wesseling. She is an avid Rams fan, whether in St. Louis or Los Angeles. If you follow Lakisha on Twitter, and you should, you’ll have seen some of the roller coaster of emotions supporting these two teams through the playoffs. Neither side made it easy. For the Bengals, there were field goals from Evan McPherson and the Bengals defense held firm against Mahomes and the Chiefs after losing 21-3. Meanwhile, the Rams imploded 27-3 to invincible Tom Brady before last-second heroics from Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp. Then they finally defeated their kryptonite, the 49ers, in the NFC Championship.
Both trips were somewhat improbably littered with triumph over adversity. I have to think that football gods or cosmic fates conspired to organize this match. Wess played a part in that.
Whatever happens on Sunday, this game should be a joyful celebration. The “Wesseling Bowl”. Hopefully both teams will be able to show off their respective talents. I wish this was a game for the ages, followed by another literary masterpiece from Chris Wesseling, highlighting the artistry in how the game was won and lost. I have no doubt that he will be there in spirit. Put on a Rams and Bengals show. For West.
Banner image credit: espn.com