When Pitt opened the 2013 season with a loss to No. 10 Florida State, a conference matchup soon after against Duke — yes, even Duke — was important in Tyler Boyd’s eyes.
A true freshman entering just his third game at Pitt, Boyd hadn’t seen much yet. But he was about to see for the first time that Aaron Donald was going to be one of the best football players in the world for the foreseeable future.
“We were out there playing, and all I know is we were up,” Boyd said during Cincinnati’s media session on Monday. “And they started to make a comeback and AD wasn’t with it. And he went out there and played like the apex predator that he is. The quarterback said hut, and he did a read option with the running back and (Donald) tackled both of them. … He tackled the quarterback and the running back at the same time.”
With Pitt up 13-0, coming off a 27-yard touchdown from Boyd himself, Duke drove down the field and set up for a 2nd-and-10 play from Pitt’s 12-yard line. Donald burst through the line and blew the play up, tackling both quarterback and running back for a loss.
While Duke would eventually score on the drive, despite Donald’s tackle for loss on second down, his impact in a 58-55 barn-burning Pitt win at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C. wasn’t lost on Boyd.
And Boyd’s 154 yards and three touchdowns on eight catches, as a freshman in just his third college game, not only helped to seal the key conference win but established the foundation for an all-time Pitt great and future Super Bowl wide receiver with the Cincinnati Bengals.
With the Bengals and Los Angeles Rams meeting in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, it’ll pit the two WPIAL and Pitt stars against each other, and in taking in just the impact that has — both at the high school and college level — in Pittsburgh, Boyd think it’s just an awesome occurrence.
“I think it’s real wholesome that we have two guys that went to Pitt and that’s actually from Pittsburgh that’s playing against each other in the Super Bowl,” Boyd said. “That’s not really common, but that shows two guys that got out the mud and prospered from the bottom. And everything is starting to pay off for both of us.”
Boyd said he’s obviously happy for Donald, but at the end of the day, only one team can win the Super Bowl. And Boyd will do everything in his power to ensure the Bengals leave SoFi Stadium Sunday night with the first Super Bowl title in team history.
That drive to win, putting the chance to win above individual stats or anything else, began back at Clairton High School in Pittsburgh, and it continued while at Pitt. And while Boyd only spent one season at Pitt with Pat Narduzzi at the helm, Narduzzi’s blue-collar mentality struck a chord with him.
“Narduzzi was the best fit for (Pitt’s) head coaching job,” Boyd. “Where I’m from, I take a lot of pride in everything I do, where I’m from we say we’re a blue-collar team and players, meaning we’re strong and we’ll do whatever it takes to win. … And I think he was the perfect fit to come in because he lived by that code that I’ve been playing about.”
Narduzzi brought an intensity with him that made Pitt players fierce, Boyd said, and that mentality really showed in Pitt’s 2021 season — which was punctuated with the first ACC title in team history.
After six seasons with Cincinnati, the winning mentality that’s been instilled in Boyd is finally coming together, and it’s led to the Bengals’ wide receivers corps being young, hungry and ready to go to bring home a first in Bengals’ team history.
“(The wide receivers corps relationship with Joe Burrow is) kinda, I think, at its peak,” Boyd said. “We’ve got a great rhythm with what we want to do, and I believe we have a great understanding of each other. We just have a great to go out and execute plays.”
Burrow’s rise — coming back from a catastrophic ACL tear during his rookie season — to becoming a top quarterback in the NFL, which has really peaked during the Bengals’ late-season playoffs push and eventual playoff run to the Super Bowl, has been well-documented. Burrow has a certain swagger about him, and Boyd has seen it first hand with his quarterback.
“Joey B got his own sauce,” Boyd said. “He’s not like everybody else. He touches it up a little different, I think, as the weeks come on and the games get bigger, he gets bigger and better. His style goes up, his play performance goes up.”
Boyd’s continued relationship with Burrow this season has been an underrated aspect of the Bengals’ rise. Boyd, who has now caught all 77 of his catchable targets this season, has provided Burrow with a reliable short-to-intermediate range target — especially when plays break down.
“I think it’s very important because me maneuvering in the slot determines a lot of his hot reads and allows him to get rid of the football quickly,” Boyd said. “And the good thing about that is I understand a lot of what defenses are trying to do to us and I understand coverages and things like that.”
The Bengals’ offensive line, while it has come a long way this season, still isn’t a good unit. Burrow is under duress more than he would probably like, and Boyd is someone who makes it a priority to provide a quick-hitting target. It doesn’t always result in big-time stats, but those yards make the difference between wins and losses.
While Ja’Marr Chase is the big name, the explosive deep threat and yards after catch producer, and Tee Higgins is Mr. Big Catch, who has grown into his role as a No. 2 NFL wide receiver, Boyd is the unspoken star. The team captain still goes about his everyday life like a player trying to prove that he belongs in the NFL.
“I go out there and take every day like it’s my last because it’s actually a privilege to be playing in the National Football League,” Boyd said. “Every time I step foot out there, I want to prove to myself and everybody why I deserve to be there.”
Chase does everything that’s asked of him and more, Boyd said, and Higgins broke the 1,000-yard mark and will continue to do so. The unit, which has built its bonds through a genuine off-the-field bond, is an unselfish unit.
“All three of us are very complementary to each, we’re all good a certain things, and we feed off each other perfectly,” Boyd said.
With a matchup against Donald and the Rams’ star-studded defense, top cornerback Jalen Ramsey is the top threat facing the unit. Ramsey, who Boyd said is probably the best cornerback in the NFL, will likely match up with Chase all night — opening up opportunities for Boyd and Higgins. If Boyd and Higgins are able to get loose, it could be a long night for the Rams.
Boyd said if the Bengals maintain focus and just play their game, everything should be okay. If the Bengals’ offense can unleash the three-headed receiving threat, a Super Bowl parade in downtown Cincinnati could be in the cards.
The Super Bowl is set for Sunday, Feb. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. While it’s two No. 4 seeds meeting, the game is being played at the Rams’ home stadium. NBC will air this year’s game, with Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels in the booth.