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Saturday, January 31, 2004

Trophy talk: Everyone playing in Sunday's Super Bowl wants to win a trophy with Vince Lombardi's name on it. Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers has already done so. He won the 2001 Lombardi Award, given annually in Houston to the top college lineman or linebacker, for his dominating final season at North Carolina. If his Panthers win the Super Bowl and the coveted Lombardi Trophy, he'll become the seventh player to claim both honors. The last five Lombardi Award winners to play in Super Bowls have been on the winning side, including 1994 honoree Warren Sapp, who triumphed with Tampa Bay last year. A total of nine Lombardi Award winners have played in the Super Bowl since the granite block trophy was introduced in 1970. Peppers wants to keep the double Lombardi streak alive. "I had great memories of winning that award in this city," he said. "Hopefully, I can add another great memory by winning this game."
Deja vu: Five years ago, the owners of the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers led the effort to bring the NFL back to Houston, and reward the city with a Super Bowl. Now their teams are playing in the big game that was a crucial bargaining chip in establishing the expansion franchise. "It's a phenomenal coincidence," Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said Tuesday. When McNair was negotiating with the NFL, Patriots owner Robert Kraft was finance committee chairman and Panthers owner Jerry Richardson headed the expansion committee. The sticking point was how much McNair would pay. He made what he called a "final offer" of $650 million. The owners demanded $700 million. "I can't pay more than that unless you add more value," McNair recalled telling them. "They said, 'What about a Super Bowl. Would that help?"' Richardson told McNair he couldn't guarantee a Super Bowl, but he and Kraft agreed to recommend to the other owners and commissioner Paul Tagliabue that one be awarded to Houston. A deal was struck, and the Texans joined the NFL two seasons ago. "And now, here we are today," Richardson said. "I hope everybody feels good about it."
Hard to watch: Quarterback Donovan McNabb didn't look like a guy who just had his heart broken for the third straight year. Yet there he was, cheerfully hawking soup at one of the many star-laden promotional events in Houston this week. He wasn't in the mood for predictions, though. "I'm not picking anyone," he said. "I just want to see a good game, if I watch it." McNabb, whose Philadelphia Eagles have lost three straight NFC championship games, said it's not hard to wear a smile for a sponsor and goof off for camera crews. He tries to look at the bright side, reminding himself he's been on the Super Bowl's doorstep three times in a five-year career when many other talented quarterbacks never even get that close. Still, he can't guarantee he'll even tune in Sunday. "It's probable right now," McNabb said. "By the end of the week it could be questionable, and then it'll be a game-time decision."
Super feast: Fans attending the Super Bowl expect more than hot dogs and pretzels and the culinary staff at Reliant Stadium is trying to respond with a Texas flair. The stadium's executive chefs have crafted treats like duck empanadas, cowboy-cut steak, seven-layer dip and cilantro pesto Texas gulf shrimp for suite revelers. Folks in the seats can buy barbecue sandwiches, fajita nachos and Southwestern wrap sandwiches. For those who crave the ol' reliables, not to worry. Vendors expect to sell more than 15,000 hot dogs and 11,000 giant pretzels.
-- Associated Press