HOUSTON – You would think highly paid athletes about to participate in the championship game they have focused on, dreamed of and worked toward since they first learned the ball was inflated instead of stuffed would be properly motivated to compete with maximum effort.
Especially since winning will earn you the title of champions of the world.
But for some reason that is never enough. There always has to be more – not just here as New England and Carolina prepare for Sunday's Super Bowl – but apparently in any professional athletic pursuit.
Which is why in weeks like this, as the hype builds up for the big game, the most repeated, if annoying, theme is how no one is giving anyone their proper respect. Like the fat paycheck and the thin groupies don't count. Regardless, the disrespected will now play even harder because of it.
So get ready to hear over and over about respect, underdogs and "shocking the world" – even though most of the world could care less and plenty of people are picking each team.
"We've been [the underdog] all the time," Panther defensive tackle Brentson Buckner says. "We try [not] to worry about who is the underdog or who is the favorite because we know when we put our uniforms on and cross those white lines, we have just as good a chance to win as the next team."
The beauty of this game is both teams can claim the disrespect card. Carolina is in its first Super Bowl, is unknown to much of the nation and is at least a six-point underdog. No respect is a given.
Then there are the Pats, who despite winning 14 consecutive games and going for their second championship in three seasons have heard Warren Sapp criticize the offensive line (even though he didn't play against it) and Titan guard Zach Piller claim that New England "is not a very good team. If they win the Super Bowl, it'll sicken me even worse. ... Their defense gets all this hype, but this defense [stinks]. If they're holding the trophy again, it will be a shock to me."
So even the favorites are acting like underdogs.
"I think we are always going out there trying to prove something," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady says.
This should all heat up this week as thousands of NFL analysts provide additional motivational fodder. I predict two-thirds of the prognosticators will pick New England, but both teams will adopt the "us against the world" mentality.
Which is why we turn to the level head of Bill Belichick, who isn't much for absurdity. Over the weekend he was asked every possible question about respect, advantages and motivation. Does it help to be the favorite or the underdog?
"I think the advantage in the Super Bowl will favor the team that plays well," he said. "I mean that in all sincerity. You can take everything else and put it in a pot and do whatever you want with it, add the spices in, cook it high, cook it low, put in whatever recipe you want. But in the end, whatever team plays well in the game, that is who the advantage goes to.
"All the rest of it is really superficial. I think it is overrated and not nearly as important as playing a good football game."
So the team that plays best will probably win?
Now that is some insight you can respect.
Texas is known for a few things. Long highways, cowboy hats, Anna Nicole Smith and Shiner Bock Beer for example. It is also big on barbeque. As a service to our valued readers who may be heading to the Lone Star State to attend the festivities, we hereby present the Yahoo! Sports guide to Texas BBQ.
(North Carolina natives, who are more than familiar with barbecue themselves, might want to prepare themselves for the lack of sauce. 'Round here it is all about the rub.)
Naturally we needed to lean on an expert, and there isn't a better one than John Parchman out in Midland, Texas. He considers eating and cooking barbecue something akin to a religion. He is as Texan as the Brazos River.
Parchman knows football, too: He is the 'ball coach at Midland Lee High School, where he has won three Class 5A (big school) state titles, a monumental feat in these parts. His program is so big-time it plays in a new, state-of-the-art, 18,000-seat stadium that includes a sunken field, artificial turf and luxury boxes. Lee is the archrival of Odessa Permian of "Friday Night Lights" fame, although Permian hasn't been much to write home about lately.
As for barbecue, Parchman is what you call a good knife-and-fork man. He'll often haul a wood-burning cooker behind Lee High, smoke beef all day and eat after practice. He's also toured every corner of this massive state – he prided himself on the fact that once he didn't leave Texas for 10 years in a row – in search of the perfect lunch.
So where is the best place to get some brisket around here?
"Houston isn't really the hot spot," he laughed Monday.
OK, so there is something about barbecue that says country, not city. But there are plenty of good spots in Houston. Put them in New York or California and they would draw crowds from three counties.
One local spot that deserves a plug is the Rib Tickler in Tomball, just northwest of Houston. It's owned by Ted Johnson, whose son Ted Jr. just happens to be a New England linebacker and captain. Don't go Sunday, though. The Rib Tickler has a sign on its front door warning customers it will be closed that day "for a family function."
If you've got the time, Parchman's No. 1 spot in Texas – make that the world – is Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in Llano, which is best described as kind of near Austin but still a long way from there. But it might be worth the trip.
"It's a unique deal," he says. "They open up this giant pit and you eyeball the meat. Then you buy the meat right off of the pit, 'I want this or I want that.' They put it on a piece of paper, no plates there, and they weigh it. You pay for it by the pound and then you just get after it. Their specialty is a 2-inch-thick pork chop. And it is real smoky in there, lots of atmosphere. Good stuff."
A bit closer to Houston, Parchman suggests the Mt. Zion Church Barbeque over in Huntsville, home to Texas' active death row (insert last-meal joke here). There is a little wood shack on the side of the church, and food sales help keep the parish going. The best I've been to near Houston is The Pit, which is on the side of a road near Prairie View A&M and has chicken to die for.
Then there is Kruez Market in Lockhart, a town that bills itself as "The barbeque capital of Texas and that's that." It is also where the cinematic classic "Waiting for Guffman" was filmed. Yes, Blaine, Mo., actually was in Texas.
"Top three in the whole world," Parchman says of Kruez Market. "They used to have the knives chained to the table so you couldn't steal them, and you couldn't stab anyone unless they were real close."
And you thought the cholesterol was the only thing that could kill you.
The Inter-Continental Houston is the hotel for the Patriots, and the management there is going all out to make the guests feel super. A bit too all out, you could say, but you have to appreciate the Southern hospitality.
The Presidential Suite, which is housing coach Bill Belichick, was refurbished, according to the Houston Chronicle to include an exercise bike in front of a huge flat-screen TV, bath towels embroidered with a "B" and fresh orchids and sports-related books and magazines on the coffee table. All this for a man who wears a ratty old hooded sweatshirt most of the time.
Meanwhile, the hotel is set to give Patriots owner Robert Kraft his own pair of custom-made ostrich boots, which, of course, is what every high-powered businessman in Boston wears.
- With the game still six days away, Houston is just starting to get that Super Bowl pulse. There were signs and banners everywhere, but so far only the teams and the media are here. With little going on we decided to head up to Lubbock to see Bob Knight's Texas Tech team play Texas. To reiterate just how big a state this is, consider that not only did we have to fly to get there (it's more than a 500-mile drive) but also we had to connect.
- Just an idea what will befall the NFL when the Super Bowl heads to Detroit in 2006: Monday morning as we left our home in the Motor City it was 7 degrees and snowing.
- Belichick on the special rules he has set for his players this week: "Try not to get arrested."