SALT LAKE CITY — It's a crazy-cool-surreal experience, and nobody has to remind Jason Buck. Eighteen years after he last wore an NFL uniform, circumstances may have changed, but not his feelings.
For him, Super Bowl Sunday is still the best invention since the quarterback sack.
“Oh, very much so,” said the former BYU defensive lineman. “I sit and watch the playoffs, especially when they get serious, and sometimes I watch a game in the stadium where I played and I literally smell the grass. The memories flood back and it's just so detailed — walking on the field before the game, looking at the stands, the emotions, the smells, the noise, the excitement. You relive it every year, every Super Bowl week.”
Buck made news last week after agreeing to buy part of Utah's only pro football team — the Utah Blaze. After winning the Outland Trophy in 1986, he spent seven years in the NFL, starting 31 games with the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins. He was a starter in Super Bowl XXIII for the Bengals. But on his second go-round, in Super Bowl XXVI, he got a ring as Washington defeated Buffalo.
So he knows what things are like for the Packers and Steelers, this year: a two-week period where America stops watching gas prices and starts living football.
“It takes you back,” Buck said. “Just the enormity of that. You just don't know until you've been there. It's crazy. It goes to a whole new level beyond the playoffs.”
Theoretically, few players would be sidetracked by the distractions of football's biggest game. Every NFL city is big, and so is the media coverage. But, said Buck, even in the later playoff rounds it's mostly regional media; nobody is there from England, China or Brazil. The Super Bowl, on the other hand, is a regular league of nations. Players must deal with thousands of media, millions of fans and billions of ticket requests from high school acquaintances and distant relatives.
Now, if he can just recreate that enthusiasm for the Blaze.
Buck's introduction to the media this week was really a redundancy. In Utah, he's as ubiquitous as fry sauce. He arrived at BYU the year after the Cougars won the national championship, so interest was high. But what made him unique was that he wasn't a quarterback. Already BYU was dominating the offensive stats nationally. Now it had best defensive lineman in the country, too.
His story has been retold for a quarter century; how he moved about as a child with a scratch-poor family that shopped for clothing in the town dump, bathed in a watering trough and slept under a hay trailer in Idaho.
Buck's pro career was solid. He registered 19 sacks as a defensive end and tackle. In 1988 with the Bengals, his six sacks were second-best on the team. After his career, he did a variety of things, including farming, motivational speaking, commentating on radio and TV, and international investment banking.
By buying into the AFL, Buck is taking on a certain risk. The original league had its share of problems. But it reinvented itself last year after suspending operations for the 2009 season. The new streamlined league bills itself as a stop-off for NFL talent.
“It's like the NFL is the big diesel, and to jump in and watch Arena Football is like driving a 911 Porsche,” Buck said. “Everything is happening fast and quick, there are a lot of points on the board, and fans are right on top of the game. It's still football, it's still big hits and the principles of football still apply.”
He considers the AFL “more personal, up close and exciting” than its bigger counterpart.
“We want the best to play for the Blaze...If it means we get the guy for one year and he's back to the NFL, well, great, he's better for having played for the Blaze and been part of the Blaze family.”
As for his own family, Buck calls Super Bowl week “just like Christmas in the Buck house.”
It's exciting, gratifying and uplifting.
Plus, you don't have to eat any fruitcake.
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