HOUSTON – If you listen to the hype, Sunday's Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers is devoid of stars. The biggest game of the year lacks personalities. These are two great teams, but there is no Terry Bradshaw, Joe Namath or even Warren Sapp to add color.
Apparently no one is listening to Carolina's Brentson Buckner.
If you want personality just ask the mountain-sized defensive tackle a question. Like, Hey Brentson, you ever think of being a pro wrestler after your football career?
"Hell no," says the 6-foot-2-inch, 310-pound shaggy-bearded, running-back-crushing Columbus, Ga. native. "Ever look inside those wrestling books and see the injuries?"
So you are saying wrestlers are tougher than football players?
"Yeah they're tougher than football players. Those guys wrestle 350 nights a year. They get torn ACLs. I was in Pittsburgh when The Undertaker threw [Mick Foley] off the top of a cage. No helmet. Stone Cold Steve Austin broke his neck and still finished a match.
"If I get a sprained ankle I'm coming off the field."
So you are saying you're delicate?
"Yeah, I'm delicate."
Though he once was suspended for violating the NFL's banned substance policy, Buckner has had his chin up here, and his mouth open. Buckner loves Super Bowl media sessions because he doesn't just love to talk; he lives to talk. "I could talk for days. They don't have enough media days to keep me from talking."
So talk he does. About anything. Fishing, football, family, television commercials, you name it. And not just when reporters are around, he just never shuts up.
"That's Buck, always talking," Panthers safety Deon Grant says. "If he walked around quiet, we'd think something was wrong."
If he didn't play perhaps the most anonymous position in football he would be a megastar. He's aware of this. Who roots for defensive tackles?
"Offense sells tickets," Buckner says. "If the score always ended 0-0, no one would come. When I'm watching I love offense too."
So he doesn't hate you for liking all those pretty players and not paying attention to him during his career. He knows that, despite playing for four teams in 10 years, few fans know who he is. But he is making the most of his time in the spotlight this week.
Brentson, who's your all-time favorite NFL player?
"Ray Nitschke," Buckner says. "I watch a lot of old film. He's hard-nosed, no teeth in the middle, playing through aches and pains. [He had an interception return] limping all the way down the field. That is football. That is football in its glory days."
Hey Brentson, you think if the Panthers win the Super Bowl, you guys will be bigger than Charlotte native Ric Flair?
"Come on," he says. "Ric Flair held the World Championship belt 13 times. We might get to hang out with him a little bit, but that's all. I love Ric Flair. He's Charlotte. He set the standard. He's been carrying Charlotte on his back for almost 20 years."
Hey Brentson, how come you chose to go to Clemson?
"I didn't [choose Clemson]," he says. "My mom did. I was all set to go to Wisconsin. Then me and my mom went up on a recruiting trip and Danny Ford [the Clemson coach later fired under a wave of NCAA infraction allegations] took the parents off. I don't know what he done, but my mom came back and said, 'I'm not signing any letter of intent unless it's Clemson.' I never asked her what happened but it was over.
"You always got to please mom."
Buckner is the Panther that roars, and his teammates love him for it. Defensive end Al Wallace sat at Buckner's table during Thursday's media session and laughed at each comment, enjoying the anonymity. "I've got the best seat in the house," Wallace said.
But there is another side too. Veterans laugh when rookies show up at training camp, hear Buckner cracking jokes all day and think that he is some loveable teddy bear of a teammate. Then comes their wake-up call.
"When you look at him off the field he's a bubbly guy, talking, the jokes, the laughs," Wallace says. "But when he straps on the helmet, he's a whole different animal."
The Panthers' defensive line is the key to the team's success. Right tackle Kris Jenkins may be the best in the business. Left end Julius Peppers is a freak athlete coming into his own. Right end Mike Rucker is quiet, brutal, blue-collar type.
And Buckner, the product of small-town Georgia, once too big to play Pop Warner Football, is the personality, sizzle and charisma.
In other words: a star.