BUTTE — The sudden momentum swing in the AFC Championship game once again put the special teams unit of the Cincinnati Bengals — and its rookie sensation kicker — on center stage.
After forcing overtime on a last-second 44-yard Harrison Butker field goal, the Kansas City Chiefs unraveled on their next drive. Patrick Mahomes threw two quick incompletions and then saw his next pass intercepted by Vonn Bell.
The Bengals then marched to the Chiefs' 10-yard line and, for the second straight week, Evan McPherson was sent in to deliver the win with one powerful swing of his right leg, this time to send Cincy to its first Super Bowl in 33 years.
Colt Anderson, now in his second season as Cincinnati's assistant special teams coach, was looking on from the sideline. He had little doubt about the outcome.
"Evan's been lights out for us all year," Anderson said. "I knew he was going to make it. I wasn't surprised but just shocked by the whole situation. It's crazy. It's unbelievable.
"We had our ups and downs the whole season. We just stuck together, we believed in one another."
Anderson and the Bengals relished the moment, but quickly got back to business with a winner-take-all game against the Los Angeles Rams set.
"We took Monday off and kind of regrouped, but coming in Tuesday it was like a normal workday," he said. "We've just been grinding all week. We're excited to get to L.A. and continue another work week."
Anderson's wife, Keelie, and a cohort of his family will also make the trip to SoFi Stadium. But Anderson said he'll be dialed in to game preparation leading up to Sunday. The sentimental stuff can wait until after the game.
"I'm not going out to L.A. to take part in all the festivities, I'm going out to win a game," he said. "I'll worry about the festivities after the game. But right now we've got to prepare like any other week and come Monday at midnight hopefully we're celebrating."
Ohio is a long way from his home state, but Anderson said he and his family have quickly grown to love the area.
"It's been a great two years," he said. "My family and kids are out here and we're loving it. We're settled in and we love the area, we love Cincinnati. It's family oriented and it's been good."
The rapid turnaround the Bengals have undergone over the past two seasons is remarkable. Anderson joined the coaching staff in 2020, not long after Cincinnati had posted a paltry 2-14 record to finish dead last in the AFC North and miss the postseason for the fourth straight year.
Anderson knew he was signing on with a team that was perpetually overlooked and a franchise where success would be anything but guaranteed.
But for Anderson, a Butte High product who would go on to become an all-time Montana football great and then play in the NFL for nine seasons, taking a path where things came easy would be uncharacteristic.
He arrived at Montana as a walk-on and fought to earn a scholarship his third year. After graduating, he went undrafted and then fought to earn a place on the Vikings practice squad. From there he battled through a torn ACL while with the Eagles, and then endured the emotional swing of being cut and then resigned by the Bills within a day.
But through it all, he persevered and was "Butte Tough" personified.
And so Anderson accepted the position with the Bengals. And they used their No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to provide a much-needed spark. The lowly Bungles quickly began to gain some "Who Dey" swagger.
"When we first got here we knew it was going to be an uphill battle," Anderson said. "We drafted Joe Burrow last year and he's been awesome since Day 1. Just a true leader, a great player, a great person. Guys bought in. It's been awesome.
"We've always thought we were a good team. Even last year when we had our struggles. Just put our heads down and kept working and the results have been good."
In the span of a month, two Butte High products have been part of championship runs. Anderson is headed to Los Angeles with the Bengals and, last month, Tommy Mellott helped guide Montana State football into the FCS title game.
Anderson served as a volunteer coach for Butte High football in 2019, the year Mellott and the Bulldogs advanced to the Class AA championship for the first time since 2012.
Mentoring Mellott that season, Anderson tried to sway the junior quarterback to join his alma mater.
"But deep down he wanted to be a Montana State Bobcat," Anderson said. "But whatever team he's playing for, I'm gonna root for. I'm a big Tommy Mellott fan."
He added with a grin: "I'm a die-hard Griz, but if Tommy wants to play for Montana State, I'll cheer for them. Except when they play Montana."
Whether he was earning All-American honors with the Griz or traveling the country over a nearly decade-long run as a player in the NFL, Anderson has always remembered where he came. After all, his hometown of Butte helped shape him and set him on a course that's led him to football's crown jewel event.
"I'm really proud to be from Butte," Anderson said. "The coaching staff and players know I'm from Butte and I'm never going to change that.
"On that note, just thanks to everyone from Butte that supported me. Real appreciative of my upbringing in Butte and being born and raised there. I couldn't imagine being anywhere else."
The lights will be extra bright in Tinseltown on Sunday. But for Anderson, who years ago was scrapping for a spot on UM's roster, his mindset is the same as it's always been — take it one game at a time.
"We've got a lot of work to do," he said. "We're gonna treat it like any other week. And when the ball's kicked it's only the guys between the lines that determine what happens. I'm just gonna do my part being a coach, try to motivate these guys. But it's gonna be like any other game."