ATLANTA — You want focus? This is focus. It’s freezing cold, and the Tennessee Titans are huddled in the hotel’s last warm hallway before venturing outside into the media tent. Most are griping about having to do these interviews in the first place, let alone with their hands stuffed in their pockets and their heads covered in stocking caps.

Except one.

Brad Hopkins comes marching toward his table as if supper is waiting. He’s the first guy to sit down, the first to start talking. Focused? He is focused. And he’s smiling. Because he knows this: When you play offensive line, you grab any attention you can get.

Reporter: Brad, what do you know about your opposing lineman, Orlando Pace?

Hopkins: I know he has a big head.

Reporter: A big head?

Hopkins: Yeah. And I have a big butt. A big butt is better than a big head. Women like it better. Did you ever hear a woman say, “Oh, look at his head”? Of course not. But they say, “Look at his butt.”

Notepads flip open. Pencils scribble. Brad Hopkins is on his way to becoming the one figure that every Super Bowl produces: The Guy You Never Heard Of Who Is Glib And Funny And Is About To Be Discovered By 2,000 Hungry Media Types.

Reporter: How come your team has to do interviews in the cold, when the Rams get to do theirs indoors?

Hopkins: Ah, they’re pansies over there.

Scribble, scribble. Hopkins smiles. Why not? Offensive linemen have the most thankless jobs in football. They’re not allowed to catch the ball. They never carry it. They block, push, shove, dig, grunt, fall down, and they don’t even get to attack an opposing player. They are always protecting, protecting, protecting, keeping the bad guys away from their quarterback and running back. Which means you only notice them when they fail.

Or when they come to a Super Bowl.

Reporter: Why can’t the linemen do end zone dances?

Hopkins: We CAN do end zone dances, man, but they ask us to tone it down. They don’t want us to detract attention.

Reporter: Detract attention?

Hopkins: Don’t be fooled by these big bodies. A lot of us can really get down.

He has a Silver lining

Not that getting down was ever a question for an offensive lineman. They are down every play, balancing on weary fingertips, looking up, once more, into the nostrils, teeth and bad breath of the defensive line. It is thankless work. It is without glamour. It is a profession that chooses its men, not the other way around.

Reporter: Were you always planning to be an offensive lineman?

Hopkins: Of course not! Who wants to be a lineman? Who wants to be the guy who stands there and listens to “four Mississippi, five Mississippi,” then blocks people? Come on. I wanted to be a running back type, receiver type in high school. I was recruited to college as a tight end.

Reporter: What happened?

Hopkins: That summer, I worked at Long John Silver’s. I gained 40 pounds. The offensive line coach took one look at me and said, “Yeah, yeah, I want that one …”

Hopkins has been in the NFL for seven years. He plays left tackle. Sports Illustrated once — on its cover, no less — claimed left tackle was the most important position in football. The most important position in football! Hopkins is the guy who keeps evil men from crushing star quarterback Steve McNair. Hopkins is the guy who knocks down evil men who would otherwise crush star running back Eddie George. Hopkins is the guy.

Have you ever heard of him?

He rests his case.

Reporter: How did you gain 40 pounds at Long John Silver’s?

Hopkins: You know those hush puppies with the butter squirted inside them? They’re really good — but they go to all the wrong places on your body.

He stands tall and wide

To insiders in the NFL a.k.a. the coaching staffs and the scouting gurus — Hopkins is one of the best in the league. He stands 6-3, weighs 300 pounds. When his contract came up three years ago, the Titans (Oilers) quickly swooped in and signed him for five more years. In the world of NFL contracts, that’s nothing short of lust.

“And that,” he says, “was the last media attention I got.”

Until now.

Reporter: What do you think about the Rams saying their loss to you this season wasn’t you playing well, it was them playing poorly?

Hopkins: They all say that. According to the other teams, we’ve never beaten anybody. Fifteen times this year, teams played us and stubbed their toes.

Reporters chuckle. Hopkins smiles. It is the star-making machinery. It is part of the Super Bowl. It doesn’t find its way to smart guys like Hopkins often enough.

Reporter: How do you want to be remembered?

Hopkins: Hmmm. As a man who was in the right place at the right time.

Looks like he’s got that part licked.

MITCH ALBOM can be reached at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch
“Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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