MIAMI — Stefen Wisniewski would have changed only one thing about the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory two years ago.
“I would have moved it to Miami instead of Minnesota,” Wisniewski said.
Wisniewski was only half-joking, because who knows how the Eagles’ historic win over the Patriots would have unfolded had the game been played in sunny, tropical southern Florida.
But for the now-Chiefs guard, hanging out near the beach and staying at the posh JW Marriott Turnberry resort has been a welcomed change from the bitter cold and Mall of America accommodations of Minneapolis.
“It’s literally 80 degrees warmer here,” Wisniewski said Wednesday.
That’s about all he hopes will be different in his return trip to the Super Bowl. Wisniewski’s road back to the NFL’s marquee game has been full of obstacles, much like his nine years in the league have occasionally seemed.
The 30-year-old veteran wasn’t even on a team for the first five weeks of this season. Released by the Eagles on Aug. 31, Wisniewski was frustrated and had allowed doubts about his ability to creep into his mind as he waited for the NFL to call again.
“I was surprised. I definitely thought I was going to make the team in Philly,” Wisniewski said. “This NFL is a crazy business. … But I knew I was good enough to still be playing football. Honestly, I was a little surprised it took so long.”
Wisniewski wasn’t going to start for the Eagles. He lost the left-guard job to Isaac Seumalo in 2018. But in each of his three years in Philadelphia, he opened the season as a backup, only to find his way into the starting lineup — either because of performance or injury — by the end.
The same has happened with the Chiefs. Signed before Week 6, Wisniewski played sparingly over his first two months in Kansas City. But when left guard Andrew Wylie suffered an ankle injury in Week 15, Wisniewski was called upon, and he retained the spot even after Wylie returned.
At this point in his career, Wisniewski has come to terms with how many teams — even the ones that sign him — have undervalued his talent.
“I think part of it is the way I play,” Wisniewski said. “I think I get the job done … but I don’t do anything that often that’s like, ‘Oh, that’s amazing!’ Whereas with some guys it’s like, ‘Oh, that was super athletic!’ or ‘Oh, that was super strong!’ ”
Wisniewski wasn’t always unacknowledged. The Raiders selected him out of Penn State in the second round of the 2011 draft and started him in every game he played in four seasons. But he was allowed to leave in free agency, and the same happened a year later with the Jaguars, even though he started all of their 16 games.
That offseason, he had to wait weeks before the Eagles signed him , and weeks in-season before he played, but then he jumped in seamlessly for injured Allen Barbre. By the start of the 2017 season, however, Seumalo was given the job. He wasn’t ready, though, and was benched after a rough outing against the Chiefs.
Wisniewski initially split playing time with Chance Warmack, but it was clear that he was far better. The Eagles offensive line took off once he was given the job full time. By the time the Super Bowl arrived, the unit was a well-oiled machine.
“It was a really good group of players,” Wisniewski said. “A lot of veterans. [Halapoulivaati Vaitai] was the youngest one. I feel like that whole year we were building toward something.”
The Eagles’ O-line dominated the Patriots defensive line in Super Bowl LII. Quarterback Nick Foles wasn’t sacked, was hit only five times, and had time in the pocket. And the Eagles’ running backs averaged 6.1 yards a carry in the 41-33 triumph.
Sunday’s opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, will likely be more formidable up front. Ends Nick Bosa and Dee Ford will draw attention, but Wisniewski will mostly see interior rushers DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead.
“I think our mindset [in Super Bowl LII] was we had a lot of confidence knowing that we could win the game,” Wisniewski said. “I’ll take a lot of that mindset into this Super Bowl.”
The home screen on Wisniewski’s phone has a picture of the ring he won with the Eagles. They let him test free agency last offseason, even though he again finished the previous season as a starter. But he was re-signed in May. He blocked well in training camp, but he struggled with his snaps while backing up center Jason Kelce.
It’s likely numbers — roster and salary-cap — had more to do with his exit. But when Chiefs general manager Brett Veach called in early October, Wisniewski was ready. He knew Andy Reid’s offense — since protege Doug Pederson had adopted most of it in Philly — and had heard nothing but praise from teammates who had played for the coach.
“He’s one of those late additions that Brett brought in that’s been pretty great for our team,” Reid said Tuesday. “Stefen is a tough kid, great personality, extremely smart.”
Kelce used to say that he enjoyed playing alongside Wisniewski because he approached the guard position as if he were also responsible for the calls at center. The 6-foot-3, 305-pound “Wiz” isn’t especially large or fast, but he’s a technician in his craft. There might not be another offensive lineman in the history of the game who has shadow blocked as much.
“I block the heck out of air,” Wisniewski said. “I probably look weird or crazy, but I got to feel it.”
Wisniewski’s NFL lineage includes his father, Leo, who played three years as a nose tackle for the Colts, and his uncle Steve, who spent 14 seasons at guard with the Raiders. Stefen was the first in the family to win a Super Bowl, however.
Much as his father and uncle passed along advice, Wisniewski said he’s been instructing teammates who haven’t been to the Super Bowl on how to approach the week.
“Obviously, there’s a lot more going on, and it’s different. But at the end of the day, it’s a football game,” Wisniewski said. “It’s the biggest game you’ll ever play in, but you got to try the best you can to just stick to your routine.
“The real time to enjoy it is after the win.”
A second title would be nice, even nicer in the warmth.