TAMPA — The minute the subject of Anquan Boldin comes up, it immediately brings to mind — for some, anyway — images of a self-centered malcontent.
Granted, the Cardinals receiver complains endlessly about his contract. And he got caught by TV cameras arguing with his offensive coordinator near the end of the NFC Championship Game.
So surely, the reputation is deserved, right? Perhaps. But the image Boldin, 28, would rather people see when they hear his name is that of a tough-nosed, win-at-all-costs football player.
"The people that I play with and the coaches that I play for, they know the type of guy that I am," said Boldin, who grew up in the rural town of Pahokee on the shore of Lake Okeechobee. "I think they know what I bring to the table. People are going to have opinions. … Some are going to like you, some aren't. But I'm not living to please those people."
That doesn't mean he wishes to be scrutinized or labeled, even though he says, "It doesn't bother me," when asked about his reputation. That's why playing well in the Super Bowl would be huge for Boldin. It would help the second-round draft pick out of Florida State in 2003 turn the page and get back to the one thing he doesn't mind talking about: being the guy who just surpassed 1,000 yards for the fourth time in six seasons.
"That situation is something that I put behind me that same day," Boldin said of his much-debated sideline argument with offensive coordinator Todd Haley. "It's something that happens whether people know it or not. It hasn't been something that I've been thinking about it. I've been going about life as normal, preparing for the Super Bowl. …
"I'm really anxious to get the game under way."
If he plays anything like he did against, say, Seattle in Week 11 — 13 catches, 186 yards — the Steelers will have their hands full.
"He defines the complete receiver, and you see that every Sunday," receiver Steve Breaston said. "You put on the tape and everybody in the league is going to say he's playing hard, he's physical and he catches everything."
He does that even after sustaining one of the uglier hits in football. On Sept. 28, the Jets' Eric Smith launched himself into Boldin and left him with multiple facial fractures. He needed 40 titanium screws and seven plates to repair the damage, but he missed just two games. He had nine receptions in his first game back.
If you listen to him and, more important, watch him, there clearly is more to the man than his contract-related outbursts.
"At the beginning of the season, I put all the talk of a new contract on the back burner," he said. "I came out and played football through all the injuries and through all the ups and downs throughout the season that we had."
As for that sideline blowup against the Eagles, that's part of the package with Boldin.
"The one thing I've know about Q since I got here is how competitive he is," Breaston said. "I know how he's always put the team first. Even in the situation he had with his contract, he told everybody there wouldn't be any contract issue during the season, and he went out there and kept his word.
"That's all he's been — a team player. He came back off an injury that most people don't come back from. … I think it's unfair that he's been treated like that. (Arguments) happen through the course of the season all the time. It just happened on the biggest drive in the biggest game.
"He's probably the most competitive guy on this team. He doesn't back down from anyone."
Not his coaches. Not the Steelers. And least of all, his critics.