GAINESVILLE, Fla. The game has been a part of Ray McDonalds story from the very beginning.
Born in the wee morning hours of Sept. 2, 1984, the sounds of football could be heard almost right up to McDonalds birth.
His father, Ray McDonald Sr., was a standout receiver for the Gators at the time. Florida opened the 1984 season a few hours earlier on the night of Sept. 1 against Miami at old Tampa Stadium.
As LaBrina McDonalds body continuously reminded her that it was about time, the Florida-Miami game was on the radio in a Pahokee hospital.
The doctor who was birthing him was a big-time Gator fan, Ray McDonald Sr. recalled this week. He was actually listening to the game while she was in the delivery room.
Soon after the Gators returned to Gainesville after a 32-20 loss to the Hurricanes, Ray McDonald Sr.s mood took a turn for the better. LaBrina had given birth to Ray Jr., the couples first son.
That son, who like father played for the Gators, will play in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday in New Orleans.
A third-round draft pick in 2007, Ray McDonald is in his sixth season with the San Francisco 49ers. In San Franciscos two playoff wins to get to the Super Bowl, the 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive tackle had nine tackles, including five in the 49ers 28-24 comeback win over the Falcons on Jan. 20.
Like almost always, Ray Sr. and LaBrina were at the game. They rarely miss one, making regular cross-country flights from their South Florida home to San Francisco and points in between during the season. They met up with their son in a corner of the Georgia Dome after the 49ers clinched their first Super Bowl berth in 18 years.
The first thing he said was, Pop, I get a chance to go for a three-peat. I get a chance to play for another championship, Ray Sr. said. He gets to play in one of the best games on the planet.
McDonald won a state championship at Belle Glade Glades Central High. He won a national title with the Gators in 2006. He hopes to add a Super Bowl title Sunday when San Francisco faces Baltimore at the Superdome.
McDonald has overcome a pair of serious knee injuries at Florida and another reconstructive knee surgery in San Francisco to earn a starting spot the past two seasons. Now he gets to play on the games biggest stage.
Growing up, this is what you dream of doing, McDonald told 49ers.com this week. Playing in big ballgames like this. All the hard work is paying off.
McDonald is not the only former Gator at the Super Bowl.
Baltimore receiver Deonte Thompson, an inactive member of the Ravens 53-member roster, is also in New Orleans. Thompson caught five passes for 51 yards in his rookie season, impressing Baltimore enough to keep him on the 53-man roster to avoid losing him to another team.
The connection between the 23-year-old Thompson and McDonald, 28, doesnt end with their ties to the Gators. They both played at Glades Central High.
Thompson came along after McDonald was there but Ray Sr. said the two know each other. Ray Sr., a police commander in Palm Beach, spent 17 years as a track coach at Glades Central and coached Thompson in high school.
Deonte was one of my sprinters. I go back a long way with him, Ray Sr. said. Ive got some love on both sides basically. Of course, theres a lot more toward my son. I want him to win.
McDonald and Thompson spent Tuesday at media day, surrounded by cameras and reporters and a man dressed up as a clown in what has become perhaps the silliest day in sports.
Thompson was in his No. 83 jersey and seated in the first row of Baltimores team picture. McDonald walked around in his No. 91 49ers jersey with a freshly adorned Super Bowl XLVII logo over his left chest.
McDonald will be doing dirty work in the trenches on Sunday trying to slow down Baltimore running back Ray Rice and quarterback Joe Flacco. If McDonald could write the script, he would make an impact in the Super Bowl like his former teammate at Glades Central did, former Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes.
In Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Holmes was named MVP after he caught a six-yard touchdown from Ben Roethlisberger with 35 seconds remaining in Pittsburghs win over Arizona. If San Francisco wins Sunday, McDonald will join former Gators receiver Dallas Baker as the only players in school history to win a state championship in high school, a national title in college, and a Super Bowl ring.
I know its kind of hard for a defensive player to be remembered like that in a Super Bowl, but that would be something I would be very proud of, McDonald told 49ers.com. To be known in the Super Bowl for making an awesome play and helping my team win.
Ray Sr. and LaBrina departed their Wellington home Wednesday for New Orleans. There is no way they would miss this game. When Ray Jr. was at Florida, the elder McDonald said he can only recall maybe one game they missed home or away.
They have made approximately 75 percent of their sons games in the NFL, made a little easier this season after Ray Jr. purchased a home in San Jose. No more hotels for his parents at home games.
After Ray Sr. finished his career at Florida he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1985 after the Gators win over Auburn he was drafted by New England and was one of the final cuts in camp. He later spent three seasons in the CFL before entering the police force.
He never came close to a Super Bowl as a player. He finally made it as a father.
I want my boy to make history, he said. To see him come back from three knee surgeries, its special man. Here he is, playing in the Super Bowl.
Gators in the Super Bowl: Super Bowl I (1967) Green Bay: Don Chandler (P) Super Bowl II (1968) Green Bay: Don Chandler (P) Super Bowl X (1976) Dallas: Burton Lawless (G) Super Bowl XII (1978) Dallas: Larry Brinson (RB), Burton Lawless (G) Super Bowl XIII (1979) Dallas: Larry Brinson (RB), Burton Lawless (G) Super Bowl XIV (1980) Los Angeles Rams: Jack Youngblood (DE) Super Bowl XVI (1982) Cincinnati: Glenn Cameron (LB), Cris Collinsworth (WR) Super Bowl XVII (1983) Miami: Nat Moore (WR) Super Bowl XIX (1985) Miami: Nat Moore (WR) Super Bowl XX (1986) Chicago: Wilber Marshall (LB) Super Bowl XXI (1987) Denver: Tony Lilly (FS), Ricky Nattiel (WR) Super Bowl XXII (1988) Denver: Tony Lilly (FS), Ricky Nattiel (WR) Super Bowl XXIII (1989) Cincinnati: Cris Collinsworth (WR) Super Bowl XXVI (1992) Washington: Wilber Marshall (LB) Super Bowl XXVII (1993) Dallas: Emmitt Smith (RB), Godfrey Myles (LB) Super Bowl XXVIII (1994) Dallas: Emmitt Smith (RB), Godfrey Myles (LB) Super Bowl XXX (1996) Pittsburgh: John L Williams (RB), Ernie Mills (WR) Dallas: Emmitt Smith (RB), Godfrey Myles (LB) Super Bowl XXXIII (1999) Atlanta: Elijah Williams (DB) Super Bowl XXXIV (2000) Tennessee: Jevon Kearse (DE), Zach Piller (OG) St. Louis: Kevin Carter (DE) Super Bowl XXXV (2001) New York Giants: Lomas Brown (OT), Ike Hilliard (WR) Baltimore: Jeff Mitchell (C) Super Bowl XXXVII (2003) Oakland: Mo Collins (OG) Tampa Bay: Kenyatta Walker (OT), Lomas Brown (OT) Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004) Carolina: Jeff Mitchell (C) Super Bowl XXXIX (2005) Philadelphia: Lito Sheppard (CB), Jevon Kearse (DE) New England: Gus Scott (S, Injured Reserve) Super Bowl XL (2006) Seattle: Darrell Jackson (WR), Marquand Manuel (S) Pittsburgh: Max Starks (OT) Super Bowl XLI (2007) Chicago: Alex Brown (DE), Rex Grossman (QB), Todd Johnson (S), Ian Scott (DT) Super Bowl XLII (2008) New England: Jabar Gaffney (WR), Chad Jackson (WR) Super Bowl XLIII (2009) Pittsburgh: Dallas Baker (WR), Max Starks (OT) Super Bowl XIV (2010) New Orleans: Bobby McCray (DE) Super Bowl XLV (2011) Pittsburgh: Maurkice Pouncey (C), Max Starks (OT) (both were injured and unable to play) Super Bowl XLVI (2012) New England: Brandon Spikes (LB), Aaron Hernandez (TE), Gerard Warren (DT), Jermaine Cunningham (LB, injured reserve) New York Giants: Justin Trattou (DE, inactive) Super Bowl XLVII (2013) Baltimore: Deonte Thompson (WR); San Francisco: Ray McDonald (DT)