LAS VEGAS – Two players who were important and consistent offensive contributors to the Giants' 2022 playoff team will be opponents Sunday in Super Bowl LVIII.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver/return specialist Richie James will play in his second Super Bowl, while San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Jon Feliciano will make his debut in the season's final game. James first played in the Super Bowl four years ago. For the 49ers. Against the Chiefs, who won the game, 31-20.
"When it happened and they won, I was like, 'Yo, that's the craziest coincidence ever,'" James said this week.
Feliciano had a similar feeling, but for a different reason. He was a fourth-round draft choice of the Oakland Raiders in 2013. Now he'll play in the Super Bowl in their new home just off the famed Las Vegas Strip.
"It's kind of surreal," Feliciano said, "especially being in the Raiders' house, playing my first four years in Oakland and to see their new place in Vegas."
In 2022, James and Feliciano played their only season for the Giants. James' 57 receptions tied Saquon Barkley for the team lead, his four touchdown receptions tied Isaiah Hodgins for tops on the team, and his 569 receiving yards were second to Darius Slayton's 724. He also averaged 7.3 yards on 24 punt returns, 21 more than anyone else on the team.
"I loved my season with the Giants," James said. "Obviously, things didn't work in the offseason, but I loved being there, I loved playing for (Brian) Daboll. There's a lot of camaraderie around the guys with Slay(ton), Isaiah, a lot of those guys, Wan'Dale (Robinson), all those guys I still talk to to this day. So, I definitely enjoyed it."
Feliciano was the starting center for 15 regular-season games and both playoff games and helped Barkley rush for a career-high 1,312 yards. He quickly became a leader among the offensive linemen.
"It was one of my funnest years," said Feliciano, a nine-year veteran. "It was the first time I got to really be the main leader in a room. All those guys mean a lot to me. I still talk to all of them. The love that they gave me after the game we played the third week of the season (a 30-12 San Francisco victory), we played on Thursday night, meant the world to me. Because I feel like going into the Giants, Daboll's first year, a lot of people didn't know what to expect. We lost (a playoff game) to the team (Philadelphia) that went to the Super Bowl. I think we had a great year, and it was fun."
Despite their positive experience with the Giants, each player found a new home in the offseason. Feliciano signed with the 49ers on March 22, while James joined the Chiefs on April 11.
"There were some talks with the Giants, but I kind of figured they were going to try to go younger," Feliciano said. "At that point, when things were coming down to the wire with the Niners, there was some talks with the Giants. But ultimately, the Niners I believed could get to the Super Bowl and look where we're at."
After starting all but three of his last 52 games, including playoffs, the previous four years, Feliciano began the season as a reserve. He did not play an offensive snap in six of the first eight games. But Feliciano started all but one of the final eight games, plus two in the playoffs, most at right guard.
"There are times where you're doubting your skills when you're sitting on the bench," Feliciano said. "Luckily, I got that game against the Cowboys, I think Week 5, where I got, I think, 30 plays and I played well. It made me feel good and it lifted my spirits and helped me get through the next three to four weeks until I was actually playing."
James missed eight games with a knee injury he suffered in Week 2. He finished with 10 receptions for 114 yards and averaged 10.0 yards on 20 punt returns and 20.8 yards on eight kickoff returns.
"Obviously, as a player, as a competitor, you want to do more to contribute, and I feel like I didn't do enough," James said. "But as a player, it's been interesting in the fact that I was able to contribute enough to be able to play still."
James said he enjoys playing for coach Andy Reid and with his offensive teammates.
"It's unique," he said. "The dynamics between Pat (Mahomes), (tight end) Trav(is Kelce) and coach Reid is something that you see in the movies. It's almost like a movie every day you walk in there. They've always got something going on as far as the play designs and how they think about the plays and how everything's supposed to operate. It's definitely been a unique experience watching Hall of Fame coaches operate."
In his first Super Bowl four years ago, James played just six offensive snaps and was not targeted. He returned one punt and four kickoffs. None of that mattered when the 49ers blew a 10-point lead in the final seven minutes and lost, 31-20.
"You get a feeling on the sidelines like, oh, we're about to win, and then the next thing you know, bam, you lost," James said. "Losing, that's the thing that sticks out the most about that game."
On Sunday, he gets a second chance to win a ring.
"You lost the last time you came here and then all you ask for is one more chance to do it again," James said. "There are guys that have played in the league a long time that never went to the Super Bowl for the first time. So, if you go one time and come back again, it's redemption almost."