Dwayne Sabb is now 43 years old, far removed from his football-playing days. The father of four now manages two Subway sandwich shops in Roselle and Linden.
But mention football and Sabb lights up like a Christmas tree, knowing full well that he had a chance that not many football players get to experience.
“I never dreamed I would actually end up in a Super Bowl,” said Sabb, a Jersey City native and Hudson Catholic graduate. “When I was a kid, I always wanted to be like Lawrence Taylor and play in a Super Bowl like him. But I never thought I could actually get there.”
As a kid growing up in Jersey City’s Greenville section, Sabb wanted to be just like the Giants’ superstar.
“I was a big L.T. fan,” Sabb said. “I loved his intensity and the way he got after people. He would do whatever it takes to get to the quarterback, to get a victory. I always enjoyed watching him play.”
Sabb first played football in the old Jersey City Recreation program, playing for the Bergen Colts. At the time, Sabb believed his future was in baseball.
“I really loved playing baseball,” Sabb said. “I just happened to play football, but I loved baseball. Baseball was my first love.”
Incredibly, Sabb’s older brother, Art, was a standout basketball player at the now-defunct St. Michael’s of Jersey City, later Bloomfield College, where he was a Division II All-American and later drafted by the Utah Jazz.
“I tried playing basketball, but I wasn’t all that good,” Sabb said. “I played for the Greenville National Little League and I tried out in high school.”
When Sabb went to Hudson Catholic, he tried out for the baseball team, but legendary coach Joe “Rocky” Pope cut him.
“I never played baseball again,” Sabb said. “My focus was then on football.”
Although Hudson Catholic’s football team wasn’t successful in the late 1980s, Sabb gutted it out and made a name for himself as a standup defensive end/outside linebacker, much like his idol Taylor.
Ironically, while in high school, Sabb was asked to pose for a now-famous poster that featured Taylor as “The Terminator.” Sabb was one of the football players on the ground in that poster.
“I worked the living daylights out of myself,” Sabb said. “I wanted to be a good football player.”
Sabb also competed in the shot put, discus, and javelin at Hudson Catholic.
“Overall, Hudson Catholic was a great experience for me,” Sabb said. “I came from a tough part of Jersey City and Hudson Catholic gave me the opportunity to get away from all that, to become a well-rounded individual and become a better person.”
Sabb had some collegiate offers, including Rutgers, Wyoming, and Temple, but one school was insistent on securing Sabb’s services.
“The University of New Hampshire blew me away,” Sabb said. “I went there for a visit and it was like no place else I had ever been. I had scheduled visits to Tennessee and Missouri, but I canceled those and went solid on New Hampshire. It was like night and day from what I was used to in Jersey City.
“There were a lot of guys from New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania at New Hampshire. But the main reason I went there was the school. I wanted to major in business and economics. I never thought about pro football. I thought about getting into the business world.”
As it turned out, Sabb became an even better football player on the collegiate level than he was in high school. He was a two-time NCAA Division I-AA All-America honoree as a linebacker at New Hampshire. He was a nominee for the I-AA Kodak Player of the Year as a senior.
“Things happen for a reason,” Sabb said. “It was meant for me to go to New Hampshire.”
A journalist contacted Sabb before the 1992 NFL Draft and told him that he was about to get selected in the draft.
“He basically said that if the draft was held today, I’d go in the fifth round,” Sabb said. “I told him that it was crazy. I wasn’t even thinking of pro ball.”
Sabb was taken in the fifth round by the New England Patriots.
“Here I was, a kid from Jersey City and Hudson County, getting drafted in the fifth round of the NFL Draft,” Sabb said. “Of course, I was happy about it.”
Sabb remained with the Patriots for five seasons. In his fifth year, the Patriots won the AFC Championship and headed to the Super Bowl to face the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI on January 26, 1997.
“When I walked on the field, before the game was kicked off, I couldn’t believe it,” Sabb said. “I ran on to the field knowing that 100 million people plus would be watching me. It was an unbelievable feeling. It was indescribable for a kid from Jersey City. I remember [Patriots head coach Bill] Parcells wasn’t sure who was going to start at linebacker. Green Bay did some different things and designed special packages. So in preparation, those two weeks, I was locked down, thinking I was starting. It was a great experience for me.”
Unfortunately, the Patriots lost the game, 35-21, thanks to a kickoff return from the game’s Most Valuable Player Desmond Howard.
“I dream about that Super Bowl at least once a month,” Sabb said. “We lost the game, but it was an honor to be there. They can’t take that away from me.”
After that Super Bowl, Sabb was released by the Patriots. He had brief stints with the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills and took an injury settlement from the Bills in 1998 that promised to end his career.
“For two years, I couldn’t even watch a football game,” Sabb said.
But in 2001, Sabb returned to professional football with the New York/New Jersey Hitmen of the ill-fated XFL, a team where he starred as the team’s best defensive lineman, collecting a league-high nine sacks.
“I got the bug again,” Sabb said. “I gave it my all to make it back and I loved it.”
Sabb remained in pro football with the New Jersey Gladiators of the Arena Football League for two seasons, and then played one season in the AFL with Buffalo and another with Philadelphia, finally ending his career in 2004.
After retirement, Sabb returned to his high school alma mater to serve as an assistant coach for two seasons.
“I enjoyed being back at Hudson Catholic and being with the kids,” Sabb said. “It was a chance to give back.”
Now, his time is spent managing his sandwich shops.
“I’m staying busy,” Sabb said. “With four kids, I’m just trying to keep my head above water.”
Jersey City’s other connection to the Super Bowl is Brandon McGowan, who was with the Chicago Bears in 2006 when the Bears lost to the Indianapolis Colts, 29-17, in Super Bowl XLI in Miami on Feb. 4, 2007.
McGowan went to Lincoln High School and later became a standout at the University of Maine. He went undrafted in the 2005 NFL Draft, but signed a free-agent contract with the Bears soon after. He became the lone free agent to make the Bears’ roster in 2005 and played in all 16 games that season.
McGowan missed most of the 2006 season with an Achilles injury, but was with the Bears at the Super Bowl. He returned to play with the Bears in 2007 and was the starting safety, collecting 80 tackles and two interceptions.
In 2008, McGowan suffered an ankle injury and missed most of the season. In 2009, he signed with the New England Patriots and spent two seasons there, before getting his release in 2011. Now 29 years old, McGowan has been out of professional football since 2011.
Dwayne Sabb is excited that the Super Bowl will come to the Meadowlands this February.
“I told my wife already that she may not find me the whole week,” Sabb said. “I’m going to attend all the events. It’s going to be a fantastic time. I might not go inside to the game, but I’ll be at the other events.
“It’s going to be great. There are going to be so many alumni events and the fact that it’s in my own backyard is amazing.”—JCM