Bengals Evan McPherson, Clark Harris shed light on Super Bowl halftime hijinks

When the Super Bowl 56 broadcast returned from commercial after the Pepsi Halftime Show, it showed an establishing shot of SoFi Stadium and a promotion for a Jennifer Lopez movie on Peacock.

Then as Mike Tirico welcomed the 208 million viewers back to the game between the Bengals and Rams, he pointed out the score.

“The Rams lead by three,” Tirico said. “It’s a field-goal game. You think the Bengals’ field goal kicker is nervous? No. Evan McPherson watched the halftime show. He was out there the whole time. ”

And there’s McPherson, wide eyes and laughing smile as any 22-year-old at a dream concert would be.

Tirico finished voicing the likely thoughts of every Bengals fan who witnessed the impossibly clutch and cool star kicker during the course of his legendary rookie season: “I love this kid.”

It transitions to a shot of McPherson sitting on the bench, offering a shrug to the camera that found him on the sideline.

Super Bowls can define careers and add to legacies. Those eight seconds cemented the McPherson legend.

The story would have lived atop Bengals lore forever if he could have lined up a third consecutive game-winning field goal two hours later. Instead, Aaron Donald ran around pointing to his ring finger.

But just as memorable is the story of how that fun-loving moment came to be, the role of veteran long snapper and initiator Clark Harris, what enraged a coach, affected the Super Bowl and the immense amount of trouble it caused that still doesn’t completely gone away.

“When you do dumb shit,” Harris said, “you don’t want to drag other people with you.”

It also leaves a complicated answer to a simple question: Would you do it again?

“Uhhhh Mc” McPherson began after a long pause.

On Jan. 20, the Bengals were five days removed from the biggest victory in the history of Paul Brown Stadium, one that snapped a 31-year drought in the postseason. They were in the final stages of practice prep for a divisional-round matchup with the top-seeded Titans in Nashville.

The announcement came across the NFL Network. The Super Bowl halftime performers would have a legendary Southern California hip-hop vibe. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige and Kendrick Lamar were announced as the performers for what’s always one of the biggest moments in music each year.

For some, an NFL mic drop.

Right then, prolific rookie kicker McPherson and 37-year-old Harris started talking about what would turn into an unprecedented sneak-out seen across the world in the biggest game of their football careers.

“We said if we have the opportunity, we will go out there and watch it,” McPherson said.

Two days after the announcement, Harris snapped to holder Kevin Huber and McPherson booted a 52-yarder at the gun to earn the Bengals a win against the Titans and a trip to face the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.

“When we started making a little run,” Harris said, “I was like, ‘Shit, if we make it, I’m watching the halftime show.'”

The run continued the next week when Harris to Huber to the boot of McPherson delivered an overtime walk-off win in Kansas City to cap Cincinnati’s improbable run to its first Super Bowl in 33 years.

It provided the opportunity of a lifetime – in more ways than one.

“It was one of those things you couldn’t really miss it, right?” McPherson said. “You got all those artists in one stadium.”

You can almost hear the words of Eminem in “Lose Yourself” playing underneath McPherson’s reflection.

Look, if you had one shot or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment would you capture it or just let it slip?

Time for the record scratch.

“Don’t tell me that,” special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons said with a smirk of disbelief, as he heard the scheming details recounted earlier this week.

Simmons built a spectacular, respected 20-year run as Bengals special teams coordinator and now assistant head coach under Zac Taylor on a foundation of trust of his players to be in the right spot at the right time all the time.

So, when it came to halftime of the biggest game of his professional life, his first job was to get everyone on the same page with a few critical adjustments necessary for the second half. Linebacker Germaine Pratt had gotten injured and they needed to shift personnel around in a few packages.

As he’s going down the line in the room, he can’t find Harris. He asks. He looks. He scans. He searches. Nowhere.

And this isn’t the standard in-and-out, 12-minute halftime of every other NFL game. This was 32 minutes and 57 seconds between whistles.

“I just couldn’t find him,” Simmons said. “I looked all around the locker room and I can’t find him. I have to go on and make adjustments with everybody else. I had to move two players and make adjustments with the punt team. I don’t have the key cog in that. That’s what frustrated me the most. ”

It didn’t inevitably end up causing an issue in the game.

“The fact I wasn’t in there for that didn’t screw anything up,” Harris said, “but could potentially have been a thing.”

Frustrated would be a polite way to term Simmons’ thoughts on the situation. It did start with Harris, and they both understand why.

Every plan needs a ring leader.

“I’m a 13-year vet,” Harris said. “So when you tell a rookie, ‘Hey, I’m going to do this, they are like,’ Oh, it’s OK then I can do it, too. ‘ I have a relationship with Darrin that is a little different than a rookie coming in. We have been together for 13 years. It’s a little different. ”


Clark Harris has played in 201 regular-season games for the Bengals. (Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today)

McPherson wasn’t any rookie. He was a star and one of the most popular storylines in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, thanks to Joe Burrow telling the story of his prediction he would send the Bengals to the AFC title game before booting the game-winner in Tennessee. He made five walk-off game-winners during the season.

His view on watching the show was simple: nothing is really changing.

“So we knew prior to, if we have the second-half kickoff I probably would have went in so we could discuss what we wanted to do,” McPherson said. “But we didn’t have the second-half kickoff. Normally, on a normal halftime, we will go in, pee, come right back out. That’s what I did. I went inside, peed, came back out, and there just so happened to be the halftime show going on. I kept to my normal routine, there was just a show going on. ”

Well, at first, there wasn’t. There was just a setup for a show going on and Harris already knew he had made his first mistake.

“I watched them set up for like 15 minutes, I said this is stupid, if I was smart I would have went inside where everyone could see my face and then snuck away,” Harris said. “They’d say, ‘Where’s Clark? I don’t know, I just saw him, but I don’t know where he went. ‘ I can say, ‘Oh, I was in the bathroom.’ I should have taken a different approach to it. ”

Another approach would have been to specifically ask if it would be all right. After all, practice squad players and other staff members were also watching.

Harris never attempted to go that route, rather more for one of vaguely plausible deniability.

“I said this is what I’m doing and nobody ever told me no,” Harris said, “So, I thought it was cool.”

As Harris pointed out, he has a long, unique relationship with his coordinator of 13 years. There’s an understanding that he can handle it.

“I feel like if Evan wasn’t out there, I wouldn’t have gotten in trouble,” Harris said. “A rookie, you don’t want him distracted. I don’t get distracted. I don’t care about what’s going on around me. I just snap. You don’t want to get a rookie distracted so you could have a huge part of the game distracted. That is kind of where the backlash has come. It is kind of causing a distraction. If it’s just me, whatever. I accept it. I realize if I just would have shut up and did it on my own, I’m sure it would have been fine. ”

Cue narrator: It was not fine.


Evan McPherson kicks a field goal in the first quarter against the Rams in Super Bowl LVI. (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

Especially not once the NBC cameras found McPherson.

“I didn’t even think there would be any cameras,” McPherson said. “I just sat down and was kind of waiting.”

Instead, there they were. Locked on the rookie sensation. Now, a potentially anonymous infraction was front and center on the year’s biggest TV broadcast.

“It’s triple, it’s triple-y bad,” Simmons said. “It’s embarrassing.”

Once the halftime show ended and everyone reconvened on the field, Simmons and Harris eventually found each other, though, it wasn’t exactly filled with stories of Dr. Dre’s closing version to “Still DRE”

“Yeah,” Harris said, “He was kind of mad.”

In March at the NFL Scouting Combine, Simmons referred to it as “still a sore subject.”

All sides had chances to talk through it and have their side of the argument heard.

“We did have a discussion about it,” Harris said. “I apologized and I didn’t. I apologized for being a distraction and the distraction part of it. I’m not sorry I stayed out there. I’m just sorry it could be constructed as a selfish act. I’m not a selfish guy, I don’t want people to think that of me. I can see how it can be constructed as that. ”

Asked if it’s water under the bridge now, the coordinator wouldn’t quite go that far.

“It’s not under the bridge, ”Simmons said with a tone suggesting it’s close. “I’m still floating on the float. It is what it is. ”

Coincidence or not, Harris, who has never had an unplayable snap in his 13 years with the Bengals, is now joined by undrafted free agent Cal Adomitis (University of Pittsburgh) in the specialists’ room.

The concept of job competition brought out the best in Harris, whom Simmons applauded for showing up in as good of shape as he has been in recent years and “worked his tail off” to prepare for the battle to keep his gig.

Was the enhanced motivation a direct reaction to the Super Bowl incident?

“I don’t know if he was motivated,” Simmons said. “It motivated me.”


Clark Harris and Evan McPherson celebrate a field goal in Week 7. (Sam Greene / USA Today)

It’s not quite Kumbaya just yet, but more precisely the chorus from Kendrick Lamar should play as the tale of this caper ties up all the loose ends at the conclusion of OTAs.

We are all right, we are all right.

There appears to be no more drama, but the question of the day remains. Knowing what you know now, would you do it again?

“Yes, but I’d go inside for 10 minutes first,” Harris said. “Let them see my face, let them know I was in the locker room, then I’d go out.”

As for McPherson, whose personal brand and legend were only boosted by his halftime shift to spectator, there was that long pause as the question hung in the air.

“Uhhhh,” he began. “Looking back on it, if there was a camera in my face, I wouldn’t stay out there. I get how it looked. It probably looked pretty bad. AND probably wouldn’t do it again, but no regrets. ”

(Top photo: Robert Hanashiro / USA Today)

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