THE IT FACTOR: The Panthers might lack marquee names, but they don't lack personality.
As well-known for his 14 years in the league as for his marriage to actor Holly Robinson, backup QB Rodney Peete is a pseudo-Hollywood star. He has attended movie premieres with Madonna, dinner parties with Arnold Schwarzenegger and claims Jennifer Lopez is a California neighbor.
Does he know Denzel Washington? "Please," Peete smirked. "Don't insult me. Denzel's my boy."
But the real characters are the role players. Take class clowns and special teamers Jarrod Cooper and Rod Smart _ a.k.a. "He Hate Me" of the one-season XFL.
All showman, Smart once took a national TV crew into a local grocery store to film him rolling frozen turkeys down the aisles at energy drink bottles _ his personal bowling tournament.
A quirky dresser with a collection of pet snakes, Cooper once had to use a steak knife to kill one when it wrapped around his neck as he tried to clean it in his tub.
Cooper and Smart are known for their game-day outfits, with items from Salvation Army shops.
"We're going for the twin thing. He's "He Hate Me,' and I want to be "They Love Me,' " Cooper said. "So we go get the crazy outfits, jackets from 1901 that smell like mothballs and polyester pants.
"Coach (John) Fox said it's okay as long as the stuff fits. One time this season my shirt was too tight and the buttons popped off and I had to fly home with it open. He said no more of that."
A HORSE BY ANY OTHER NAME: There's more than one Belichick making news these days. Of course there's Bill Belichick, coach of the Patriots. Then there is Belichick the horse, named by co-owner and Pats fan John Gallo.
"I've been a season-ticket holder forever," Gallo said from his home on Cape Cod, Mass. "So when I got this colt two years ago when he got them to the Super Bowl, I said, "What the heck, let's name him Belichick.' "
There are differences. Belichick the coach has a 14-game win streak; Belichick the horse tries to end a three-race skid today at Gulfstream Park.
Belichick, made aware of his namesake Wednesday, said through a spokesman he was "flattered" by the naming.
On occasion, the coach used horse racing to motivate players. Late in the 2001 season, Belichick played a tape of Tiznow's nose victory over Sakhee in the Breeders' Cup Classic. New England went on to win the Super Bowl.
SAFE AND SECURE: A fence has been built around the Reliant Stadium complex in Houston and metal detectors, bomb sweeps and a 12-hour no-fly zone in the area are some of the security measures being taken for the Super Bowl.
Fans will pass through several checkpoints before entering the stadium and will be subject to searches, NFL vice president for security Milt Ahlerich said.
_ TIMES WIRES
BITTERSWEET MEMORIES: Joe Nettles carries a cutout of former Buccaneer Dexter Jackson as he prepares the media center at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. Jackson had two INTs for the Bucs in last year's Super Bowl win over the Raiders, earning MVP.