ATLANTA – Super Bowls have a way of making NFL players reflective.
Arriving on the biggest stage conjures up memories of high school games and fondness for all the people who helped get these players to this pinnacle of the profession.
For New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, Sunday's game against the Rams for football's greatest prize offers an opportunity to represent Rock Hill, S.C. – otherwise known by some as Football City, USA.
"We've got the city on our back, and that's all we need," Patterson said Wednesday. "We take pride in the town we're from. Everywhere we go, everywhere we play at, we carry them on our back."
Rock Hill helped propel Patterson and Gilmore to this point in their careers.
Gilmore once starred at South Pointe, just like Patterson did for rival Northwestern. They met in the 2008 state championship game, with Gilmore (playing quarterback) and South Pointe coming away with a 35-14 victory.
"It was competitive and I always brag to him that I beat him in the state championship," Gilmore said with a smile on Wednesday. "I always have that."
After a terrific college career at South Carolina, Gilmore was selected 10th overall by the Bills in 2012. The following year, the Vikings drafted Patterson out of Tennessee with the 29th overall pick.
The year after that, Houston tabbed defensive end Jadeveon Clowney – a national phenom and another Rock Hill native – with the No. 1 overall pick.
At that point, publications like the New York Times and Washington Post started writing stories about this town in South Carolina that had suddenly produced three consecutive first-round picks (not to mention several other NFL players over the years like Johnathan Joseph and Benjamin Watson).
"I always say, there's something in the water in Rock Hill," Gilmore joked. "If you want an athlete, you should go there to look for them."
When the Patriots traded with the Raiders last offseason to acquire Patterson, it brought two Rock Hill stars together on one of the most successful franchises in sports.
"When I found out Cordarrelle got traded to the Patriots, I was very excited to get another guy from Rock Hill on the team," said Gilmore, who signed with New England in 2017 after five seasons in Buffalo. "You'd never think of that in a million years, but it's great to have that happen."
Gilmore and Patterson would love nothing more than to return home to Rock Hill with Super Bowl rings on their fingers.
Gilmore, an All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection in 2018, will be challenged by the Rams' explosive offense. He's been outstanding all year, and one final test remains.
"All that matters is what I do in this game," said Gilmore, who lost last year's Super Bowl in his first year with the Patriots.
Patterson has made contributions in the passing game, running game and return game. He stepped in at running back when the Patriots were depleted by injuries and finished the year with 42 carries for 228 yards compared to 21 receptions for 247 yards.
"I just came here and tried to buy in to whatever opportunity they gave me," Patterson said.
The biggest opportunity yet is the one that awaits on Sunday.
"It's something we dreamed of when we were little, but you never thought the day was going to come," Patterson said of playing alongside Gilmore in the Super Bowl. "It's finally here and it's just a blessing. We have to take advantage of it."