- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2004

HOUSTON.

You never know when you’re going to be in the Super Bowl again, so you’ve got to make the most of it. For Brentson Buckner, the Carolina Panthers’ effusive defensive tackle, that meant wearing enough jewelry yesterday to fill a window at Tiffany’s.

“You’re probably looking at $200,000 worth,” he informed the media. “The earrings go for $30,000.”

And why wouldn’t they? The diamonds three carats are bigger than the one in your beloved’s wedding band.

“A Christmas gift from my wife,” he said.

Attached to other parts of his anatomy were sparkling chains, gem-encrusted medallions, a pinky ring straight out of the John Gotti catalogue and, the piece de resistance, a $100,000 watch. (And you know what I always say about $100,000 watches: Anybody with one of those has way too much time on his hands. I mean wrist.)

“It’s a loaner,” he said. “I’d never be able to explain to my accountant why I spent $100,000 on a watch. A jeweler in Atlanta gave it to me to wear this week. This is the last day I’m wearing it, though, because I don’t want to be responsible for losing it.”

Many of the players here are keeping their True Selves under wraps this week, lest they say something to enflame their opponents or worse, shame their parents. Every day, the New England Patriots sound more like their coach, Bill Belichick, who wouldn’t say spit if he had a mouthful. But Buckner’s philosophy is entirely different.

“This is the biggest game of the year in the number one sport got to relish the moment.”

Of course, Buckner has a sense of perspective most of his peers lack. He’s 32, has slugged it out in the NFL trenches for a decade and, well, he’s seen a lot. He’s been to the Super Bowl with the Steelers, endured a 1-15 season with the Panthers, been traded, cut, suspended (for steroid use). He knows, having gone through it in Pittsburgh, that “if you lose the Super Bowl, it’s like you were never there. Everybody wants to party with the champions.”

He is, in short, much more than just a starting defensive tackle. He’s the team’s voice, especially for the young defensive line. “This is my role,” he said. “I do the things they’re not comfortable doing. Julius Peppers isn’t comfortable being in front of the camera. Mike Rucker just wants to be Mike Rucker. Kris Jenkins has got all this ability the size, the speed but he doesn’t realize how good he is. So I take care of this part of it, and then all they have to worry about is game day.

“I love this. I hope to be part of the media one day hopefully sitting in a booth with a suit on like Michael Irvin.”

Peppers, Rucker and Jenkins are certified stars, the real reason the Panthers’ D-line is the best in the league. Buckner, with his scraggly beard and motor mouth, is merely “an old, wily-type guy,” as he puts it. Occasionally, though, he does something to get himself noticed. When the Redskins played at Carolina in November, for instance, he forced a fumble by Rock Cartwright at the goal line that turned out to be the difference in the game.

Buckner was raised in Columbus, Ga., the only boy in a family with seven girls. (Good thing he grew to be 6-2, 305 pounds. Otherwise, he never would have been able to fight his way into the bathroom.) At the age of 5, he was already “too big to play Pop Warner,” he said. “Wallace Davis, the coach at Carver High School, is the only reason I’m here today. He was the first one to tell me, ‘They’re going to pay you to play football someday.’”

And now he’s the resident sage on a Super Bowl team, issuing quotes like: “They said hell would freeze over before the Panthers made it to the Super Bowl. Well, when we left Charlotte, it felt like the process had already started.”

And: “We’re the most boring team in the NFL. All we do is play defense and run the ball down people’s throats. I love being boring like that. Vince Lombardi won a lot of championships being boring like that, didn’t he?”

And: “People say we don’t have any experience in a game like this. But the Patriots didn’t have any experience when they beat the Rams . All that matters is what you do between the white lines.”

Media Day at Reliant Stadium was almost over. Brentson Buckner looked content. Not just because he was five days away from the Super Bowl, but because he had accomplished his objective of “not putting my foot in my mouth. I don’t want to be that guy you’re talking about five years later, saying, ‘Remember on Media Day when Brentson Buckner said such and such?’”

Still, something was missing amid his chains and medallions and earrings and all the rest, something you can’t put a price on. “I’d trade all the jewelry for one Super Bowl ring,” he said.

All of it except the $100,000 watch, of course. That’s a loaner.


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