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SUPER BOWL: What about Bob?

MIAMI - Super Bowls are assigned Roman numerals but what defines them are royal names. From Namath to Bradshaw to Montana, Franco to Marcus to Emmitt. Take Sunday's game. Already we know there's an Urlacher, a Manning and a Harrison. There's a Re...

MIAMI - Super Bowls are assigned Roman numerals but what defines them are royal names.

From Namath to Bradshaw to Montana, Franco to Marcus to Emmitt.

Take Sunday's game. Already we know there's an Urlacher, a Manning and a Harrison. There's a Rex, a Cato and a Lovie. Even one of the kickers - Vinatieri - is known in more households this time of year than just his own.

So the question of the day is this: What about Bob?

One of the most common names of all; one of the most uncommon games of all.

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"The plays I make, I don't get up all rowdy," the Colts' Bob Sanders said. "I don't get up on myself because I believe those are plays I'm supposed to make. Simple as that."

He plays free safety, a position that sometimes places him an entire first down away from the line of scrimmage. He is 5-foot-8, 206 pounds, the dimensions of a sportswriter, although Sanders fills them out much more impressively. He has missed more games this season than he has made. And yet, there isn't a player more important to the Colts' defense, not one who owns a more significant punch than the back who in college was called "The Hitman." He is Indianapolis' Brian Urlacher, minus the shaved head and the hype.

The kick the

Colts needed

Since returning from a knee injury a month ago, Sanders has been widely credited for saving his team's season, partly by what he has done but more so by how he has done it. He is energy and attitude, wound into tight cords like his ominous, steel-belted biceps.

The Colts' defenders suddenly went from wearing cleat marks on their necks to swallowing opposing runners whole. They turned from Swiss cheese to Limburger, smelly and nasty and, most important of all, nearly impossible to crumble.

"It's cool, man," said Sanders, a Pro Bowler a year ago. "The attention is nice. But I let everyone else go ahead and talk about that. I don't get into it. There are 11 guys on defense, so you can't say one guy turned it around. But I do appreciate the praise."

Now, back to the name. It isn't formally Robert or even Bob at all. In fact, Bob Sanders - legally - could just as easily be Colonel Sanders. Come on, check this guy out. Does he look at all like a Bob Sanders?

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His actual first name is Demond, something no one calls him. Sanders' mother, Jean, referred to him as "Boy-Boy" when he was young. She shortened it to "Bob" about the time he was 6.

So the player now making a name for himself is doing so only after first having a name made up for himself.

"I have no idea why my mom picked Bob," Sanders said, "and I've never asked her. My name used to get slaughtered all the time by other people. I was 'Desmond' or 'Damon' or 'Demon.' So Bob's cool."

Absorbing the moment

He certainly is. Sanders spent media day this week sitting at podium No.1, behind sunglasses and before God. He's a churchgoer - "He's a good God," Sanders said. - and has a pair of praying hands and the words "Guide Me" tattooed on his right arm.

While one of his teammates nearby was being interviewed by a puppet speaking Spanish - remember, this was media day, an event that attracts hundreds of journalists and almost as many urinal-ists - Sanders spoke in easy-to-grasp English.

"I'm blessed to be here and to be healthy again," he said. "I'm trying to soak up every second, every hour, every day we're down here. I want this week to last forever. I've dreamt about this my whole life."

People tend to dream big when they start from a place so small. Coming out of rural Pennsylvania, Sanders barely was recruited because of his size. He wanted to attend Penn State, but the Nittany Lions deemed him to be too much of a cub.

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He was pursued mostly by Ohio University and Iowa, selecting the Hawkeyes despite "not even knowing where Iowa was on a map."

The enforcer

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz later would sum up Sanders' four Big Ten seasons this way: "It was like being in a street fight and having your big brother show up."

Upon arrival in Indianapolis nearly three years ago, his impact was similarly profound. In the past three playoff games, Sanders' 15 solo tackles leads his team. He also has an interception and was credited for greatly altering a victory over Kansas City, though he had only three tackles.

"Obviously, Bob Sanders makes a difference with his energy," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "It's difficult to match that."

One more victory would write Sanders' name into NFL history. Regardless of how Sunday's game goes, the league at least displayed an awareness about his story, if totally by accident.

The security guard assigned to Sanders during media day? Another fellow with a notable name, James James, III.

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