For Jason Buck, who will start at right defensive end for the Cincinnati Bengals, today's Super Bowl marks yet another successful personal assault on thelaws that say you can't get here from there.
A lot of players have come a long way to make it as a Super Bowl starter, but it's likely none any further than Buck, whose roots go back to Adrian High School on the Idaho-Oregon border, where there were 100 kids - in the whole school.How small was Adrian? So small that when Buck moved to St. Anthony, Idaho, for his last two years of high school, Adrian dropped back to 8-man football.
Buck, meanwhile, was joining a huge southeastern Idaho high school with 500 students. He was the quarterback at South Fremont High. That was the good part. The bad part was that, as a transfer student, he wasn't exactly looked on as one of the guys. His teammates often let opposing linemen through on purpose, so they could whack the new kid up the side of the helmet.
Since Buck's chosen goal - set determinedly when he was seven years old - was to be a great football player, and to one day make a living at the game in the NFL, his South Fremont experiences weren't to his liking.
And when nearby Ricks College didn't even offer him a football scholarship, it got worse. Since his family's finances couldn't afford to send him to school on his own, it appeared he would have to rearrange his life's direction.
But Buck didn't quit on his goals.
He did get defensive - switching from a budding quarterback to a budding defensive lineman.
Instead of going to college straight out of high school, he went to work stocking shelves in a grocery store by day, and working out in the weight room by night.
The rest is junior college history - and the start of the Jason Bucks The Odds story.
By the time he returned to Ricks, he was 240 pounds - 40 pounds heavier than in high school - and impressive enough to earn a scholarship. By the time he was finished at Ricks two years later he was named All-American and the junior college national defensive Player of the Year.
That earned a scholarship offer from BYU, where Buck duly reported for spring practice in 1985. He expected a hero's welcome in Provo. Instead, he was greeted by speculation. The coaches suggested that he might redshirt a season, to get used to major college caliber football, and to put on more weight and strength.
He had to go full tilt all spring to change their minds.
Then, to make a long and hard process short, his first season as a Cougar he was named the WAC defensive Player of the Year. His second season, he was consensus major college All-American and the winner of the Outland Trophy, symbolic of the best lineman in college football.
He was drafted in the first round of the NFL 1987 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
He held out for a four-year contract worth in excess of $1.5 million.
After which the Bengals wondered what they bought. They questioned if they'd gotten their money's worth. Buck didn't earn a starter's spot in 1987. He was used primarly as a pass rusher, and he wasn't terribly effective. Neither were the Bengals. They registered a woeful 4-11 record.
That brings us to the 1988 season, when both the Bengals and Jason Buck had pressure on themselves.
"I felt I had to prove myself this season," Buck said. "I wanted to prove I deserved the Outland Trophy, and that I was a legitimate first-round draft choice. When the team went 4-11, I was the guy they put a lot of the blame on. They said I hadn't come through, that I was a wasted draft choice. I wanted to show that I could play, that I could come through."
Buck sighed after he said the above this past week during a pre-Super Bowl interview session.
"It's the story of my life," he said. "No matter where I go. No matter where I've been. I've always had to prove myself.
"It was that way at Ricks. It was that way at BYU. And it's been that way here with Cincinnati. You try to block out what's being said, but you can't. I knew what people were saying. I knew how the national press was questioning my winning the Outland - coming from BYU and all that. I knew I was a scapegoat for the poor season.
"But the thing is, I tend to thrive on adversity. It motivates me. Whenever you gain a great amount of success you tend to relax a little. Getting slapped in the face can be a good thing."
Buck's answer to the 1987 season was typical of his answer to the Ricks situation, and the BYU situation.
He dug in mentally. He worked out as furiously as ever. Whereas his bench press at BYU was around 450 pounds, he got up to 500 pounds this past offseason in Cincinnati.
That was enough, even, to satisfy Buck.
"I've always had goals, to lift more and more and more," he said. "But when I got to 500 pounds I realized that you can only get so strong. Then you have to be intelligent and work on technique."
The past four months, he's been working on intelligence and technique.
During the same four month period, the Bengals have gone 14-4, producing the third biggest turnaround - from one season to the next - in NFL history.
Buck has been the year-long starter at right defensive end.
Now, they're playing for the NFL title.
"You know," Buck said, "I've always been strong-willed. "I guess that's what's helped the most. If you want something badly enough, no matter what it is, you can get it if you just don't quit. If your desire is unbreakable. I swore to myself as a boy I would become something great. I refused to give in."
Understandably, Buck likes the Bengals' position going into today's game.
"I wouldn't want it any other way," he said. "San Francisco is the glamor city; the 49ers are the dominant team of the decade; Montana is a genius at making the big play. It all puts us down. It all makes it look like we don't belong here."
Ah, music to Jason Buck's roots.