“And that’s why I played the game, to be in the big moment. It doesn’t get any better than the Super Bowl.”
And yet once he got into the NFL – as a second-round draft pick of the Bengals in 2017 – he added some personal guidelines to his big goal:
“Obviously, I was going to watch the Super Bowl, it’s the greatest show in sports, probably the greatest show out there in general, but I was never one of those guys who said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna go to the Super Bowl just to go and experience the experience. I always said I’m just gonna stay here and wait for my time.”
Even so, he said he realized nothing was guaranteed:
“You have players that played many, many years hoping that they just get to an AFC Championship or an NFC Championship, let alone a Super Bowl, and they never did.”
That list includes great backs like Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, O.J. Simpson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Gale Sayers and Earl Campbell.
Many thought Mixon could end up on that roll call if he remained a Bengal.
And a title game possibility this season seemed nothing short of a pipe dream.
Over the past two years, the Bengals had won just six games and were a combined 6-25-1.
The team hadn’t advanced to the Super Bowl in 33 years and hadn’t won a playoff game in 31 years.
To top it off, Mixon – who had eclipsed 1,100 yards rushing in two of his first four seasons as a Bengals running back – was coming off foot injury that sidelined him for the final 10 games last season.
And quarterback Joe Burrow was returning from major knee surgery.
Before the season, oddsmakers had the Bengals as a 200-1 chance to make the Super Bowl.
Mixon was asked about that Monday: “As a team, we don’t look at outside people who don’t have anything to do with playing in the NFL or playing the game.
“When it comes down to it, it’s us believing in ourselves and taking care of business on Sundays. For us it started with the coaches and the players and everybody – we bought into all the right things.”
Mixon said he realized the season could be something special before the games even began:
“It started in training camp and it started with our defense.
“We had guys like Larry Ogunjobi come in since day one and create a huge impact on defense. Guys like Mike Hilton came in and made an impact. There were guys we picked up through free agency and rookies. We knew our defense was gonna be special.
“And then once we started to get the skill guys out there ballin’, it was like ‘OK‚ we think we got something!’
“Then in week one against Minnesota (a 27-24 victory in overtime), it was ‘OK, we feel it out here.’
“As we went through the season, every win got bigger and bigger and bigger for us.
“And when we got to the playoffs, everybody said we wouldn’t get past the first round. Then it was we’re not gonna get past the first seed, Tennessee, and then they said we’re not gonna go into Arrowhead and win.
“And yet here we are. At the end of the day, the bigger the occasion, the more we rose to the moment.
“Now we’re in the biggest game of our lives and we’re going to do what we can to seize the moment.
“It’s a great time to be a Cincinnati Bengal.”
‘I’m living a movie right now’
Now in his fifth season in Cincinnati, Mixon has a real sense of what this means to the city and the Bengals fan base.
“It’s a great moment to be in. The city has been waiting for these 31 or 32 years (33 actually), so for me to be a part of it is something special. It just means everything … Especially because of the way these fans support us. They’re like no other. They love us.”
That romance has been heightened not just because of what the Bengals have done on the field, but for the way they’ve done them.
They’ve shown dominance and delight.
And no one personifies that more than the 25-year-old Mixon.
He didn’t just come back from his injury, he’s had his greatest season ever.
This year – as he’s done since he came out of Oklahoma with a couple of blemishes for ugly, off-the-field incidents that made some teams shy away from him – he’s embraced one guiding thought:
“I’ve wanted to show that no matter what, the team can always count on me.”
Since he’s been a Bengal, he’s avoided those past mistakes and become a growing pillar in the locker room and on the field.
This season he became just the fifth Bengals back ever to rush for over 1,200 yards in the regular season (he had 1205) and he’s added another 190 yards in the three playoff victories. He has a combined 14 rushing TDs.
Through the season’s 20 games, he’s also had 55 catches for 420 yards and three more TDs.
He finished the regular season ranked third in the NFL in rushing yards and carries and fourth in rushing TDs.
And with several of his scores he’s added joyous end zone celebrations that often include his teammates, including the big, beefy linemen.
“That started my rookie year,” he said. “I always wanted to put on a show with end zone celebrations and obviously my play on the field.
“But when I first got here, we didn’t really have guys that were that excited about making plays. It was like, ‘I made a play and aaah, I’ll just go to the sideline.’
“But I wanted to bring a little excitement to the game and now we’ve got guys that actually fit in like that. They want to put on a show and go in the end zone and dance.
“Touchdowns are hard to come by in this league and we want to celebrate them. It’s great for the players and the fans. It’s infectious. It’s just really a great feeling.”
Those feelings will intensify as the team arrives in L.A. today.
“I feel like I’m living in a movie right now,” he said. “And we just keep adding to the script.
“And Sunday we hope to come back home with the Lombardi Trophy.”