Super Bowl LVI: Bengals’ Hubbard won’t let himself look ahead

LOS ANGELES -- Sam Hubbard would love to bring a Super Bowl title back to his hometown, but the Cincinnati native and Bengals defensive end won’t allow himself to daydream about that possibility.

The Archbishop Moeller High School grad and former Ohio State standout was adamant throughout his 30-minute press conference Friday at UCLA’s Drake Stadium that he has kept his attention on doing what it takes to beat the L.A. Rams.

Cincinnati plays the Rams in Super Bowl LVI on Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., and the Bengals are trying to bring home the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy.

“I think about how none of that is gonna happen unless you win the game, so I am thinking about winning the game and all my energy has gone into this preparation, controlling my emotions, getting my body right,” Hubbard said after the team’s final practice of the week. “This week in preparation, watching film, staying in my room, not going out too much, doing all the extra stuff and just keeping my head in this game.”

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Hubbard acknowledged he dreamt about a Super Bowl experience as a kid. He enjoyed the AFC Championship victory that got him to this point, celebrating that for one night, but got right back to work the next day studying film to learn from that game and beginning preparations for the Rams soon after that.

“I think it’s everybody’s dream to have a victory like that,” he said. “I mean, I’ve had some great victories in my time, but this is the big one. And, you know, all that stuff comes once you win the game. So that’s ... what I want to focus on.”

Hubbard has been a big part in the Bengals’ turnaround this year, recording 7.5 sacks in the regular season and adding three big sacks in the playoffs, including two in the second half of the AFC Championship to help Cincinnati rally to beat the Chiefs. He has a big task again Sunday trying to impact Matthew Stafford and an explosive Rams offense.

Some of Hubbard’s success can be attributed to the consistency in the pass rush on the opposite end of the Bengals’ defensive line with Trey Hendrickson recording 14.5 sacks, but Hubbard also said his contract extension before training camp allowed him to play more freely this season. The Bengals gave him a four-year, $40 million deal to keep him in Cincinnati through 2025.

“I think that was important for me just as far as the confidence, playing free and having upstairs just trusting me in being part of the future here,” Hubbard said. “And having that out of the way this year has been a blessing just because all I focus on is trying to win games, be a leader, do the right thing for my teammates, not having to worry about any of that. And I’m really thankful that they trusted me enough to have the year that I’m having and it really paid off.”

“I showed it every day in my first three years as far as just being a consistent force, even in the dark days, just being someone that came to work and played every snap,” he added. “I think they saw value in that and maybe the numbers didn’t match up to some things, but they took a chance on what I showed them my first three years as far as the intangibles and I’m really thankful for that and I’m here to stay and I got a lot more I want to accomplish.”

Hubbard didn’t just earn the trust of the front office, though. He was drafted under coach Marvin Lewis and had just one season with him before the organization moved on to Zac Taylor.

Much has changed since 2018, with most of his draft class moving on since then as the culture of the locker room shifted and the coaching staff took the team in a new direction. But, Hubbard fit into the plans, and he said he was energized by what he was seeing within the organization as a whole.

“A lot has changed every year,” Hubbard said. “It’s just a complete culture shift. Coach Lewis was an amazing coach, great person. I only got a year with him, but when Zac came in a lot of changed every year, a lot has changed kind of moving into a more modern type team. Ownership, the Blackburns have been amazing, just doing things to engage the fans, stuff like social media, and I think it’s just a collective effort. Everybody on the same page to get us to this moment. It’s not one thing or one person, it’s everybody on the same page just wanting to get us to where we are.”

This year was all about “New Stripes,” as the organization changed the look of their jerseys and tried re-engaging the fan base with a campaign that also included honoring past players with a Ring of Honor.

Hubbard and the Bengals certainly earned their stripes this year, but he says they haven’t “arrived” until they’ve won the Super Bowl.

“I mean, everything about this week is fun and cool, but you lose the game and the whole ride we’ve been on, everything we’ve overcome, everything we’ve accomplished will be forgotten, moved on to next year and written off, so we’re focused on winning this game because that’s all that matters in the end. Everything that’s happening right now, even all this, it’s all superficial unless you win the game and that’s what we have an understanding of as a team. So I don’t really care about anything but winning the game.”

“One thing I’ve heard from everybody is there’s no guarantee you’re going to be back here. Don’t ever count on getting back here. This is our time. We’re here. Let’s win it now. There’s so many teams and situations, veterans I’ve talked to that are like, ah, we’ll be here again. But it just might not happen. So we’ve got to win this game.”


Sunday’s Game

Rams vs. Bengals, 6:30 p.m., NBC, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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