Buckner Turns Into Leader with Panthers

When he played in Pittsburgh, Brentson Buckner was known for his outlandish outfits and he was labeled a troublemaker.<br><br> The troublemaker tag lingered when he played in Kansas City and San Francisco.

"I never changed, just that perception of me changed," Buckner said. "A lot of people don't view vocal people that speak their opinion as being troublemakers. It's just a matter of me finding a coach and an organization that accepted me. Coach (John) Fox came in here, he wants leaders. He wants you to be vocal, but he wants you to show it, and that's what I've been doing since I've been here."

As the Carolina Panthers prepare to face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII, Buckner has assumed a new role as a team leader.

Buckner, now a 10-year veteran, is the oldest player (32) on a young defensive line regarded as one of the best in the NFL. He has mentored All-Pro tackle Kris Jenkins and helped develop ends Mike Rucker and Julius Peppers.

"We are young in the defensive line, very talented, but young," coach John Fox told the Charlotte Observer. "Brentson communicates a lot of things to those guys, both on and off the field, during games and before games."

Buckner was viewed as disruptive and cocky early in his career, but he has embraced the leadership role.

"I always think that a leader says things that other people aren't comfortable saying to the coach," he said. "You might take the heat for it, but as a leader, you should be able to do that. You have to be the voice of your people. That's the way I was raised to be."

Buckner signed with the Panthers after the 2000 season and was expected to add depth at defensive tackle. But in three seasons, he has become a steady influence on and off the field. After missing four games in the regular season with a knee injury, Buckner has stepped up in the playoffs.

This is quite a reversal for Buckner, who was traded from Pittsburgh to Kansas City in 1994, was cut by the Chiefs and had to spend a season with Cincinnati before signing with San Francisco in 1998.

"It started to change in San Francisco, because when I left Pittsburgh, it was like, 'Oh, he's a troublemaker,' " Buckner said. "But then I go to San Francisco and when I left, all the coaches raved about how hard he works, how much he spent doing film, how much guys like him. Then it's like, 'Hold up, the perception we had was wrong.' I came here and haven't changed. I work hard, come to work and I have a passion for this game. If I feel like a person ain't showing the same passion to help us win, I'm going to let them know."

Buckner shares the knowledge he acquired playing on Steelers' teams that played in two AFC title games and one Super Bowl.

He looks back sadly at the 1994 season, when Pittsburgh's players were so cocky they spent team meetings dreaming of endorsement deals, writing lyrics to Super Bowl songs, even dozing off until the ring of a beeper or cell phone jolted them to attention.

What finally sunk in for Pittsburgh was losing to San Diego in the AFC championship, ending their season one game short of the Super Bowl. He cautions the Panthers not to allow the same thing to happen to them.

"One thing I try to do is explain, 'Hey man, there is no tomorrow. So you go out there and play as hard as you can go and if you can't go, get somebody else in there who can,' " Buckner explained. "Give yourself the ultimate chance for success and don't slight yourself.

"You don't want to be sitting back saying, 'I wish I had done this, I wish I had watched more film.' That's what I am trying to show."

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