Originally created 01/27/99

Buchanan: A confident underdog

MIAMI -- Given the commotion he caused last week with his half-serious guarantee of an Atlanta Falcons victory in Super Bowl XXXIII, Ray Buchanan surely would play it cautious at Tuesday's Media Day session.

He would choose his words carefully, having learned that everything said or done at the Super Bowl is magnified in significance a hundred times.

Yeah, right. Anybody who made that assumption doesn' know Buchanan -- Pro Bowl cornerback, free spirit and the Falcons' most confident player.

True to form, Buchanan outdid himself by showing up for the media horde at Joe Robbie Stadium wearing a black leather dog collar with silver studs around his neck.

"Everybody's calling us underdogs, so I thought I would go ahead and bring me some props to this ordeal, get my dog collar and put it on," Buchanan explained. "I'm just coming out here having a little fun with you guys, so I hope you have a good sense of humor."

Denver is favored by seven points, and Buchanan was making a statement that his team, which knocked off Minnesota in the NFC championship game after being picked to lose by 11, revels in the role of the underdog.

Safety Eugene Robinson, mother hen of the Atlanta defensive backs, was among the first to spot Buchanan boarding the team bus with the collar tied around his waste Tuesday morning.

"I said, `Ray, what are you doing now, and what's that?'±" Robinson said, still incredulous at his teammates's audacity. "He goes, `It's a dog collar, Gene. It's for us being the underdog.'

"I said, `OK, Ray. I'll sanction the dog collar. You can wear it.' And then he says, `OK, Gene, pray with me so God will give me the words to say.' I said, `Yeah, I'm going to pray that you don't say the wrong thing."

Buchanan was simply being himself, just as he was last week when he issued his victory guarantee during a taping for HBO's "Inside the NFL" after some prodding by analyst Cris Collinsworth.

No student of NFL history, and only a toddler when Super Bowl III was played, Buchanan had no idea that his prediction came on the 30th anniversary of Joe Namath's legendary guarantee that his Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts.

All of a sudden, "Big Play Ray" was "Broadway Ray" to the national media.

"I was very surprised, because when I said it, I didn't think it was going to draw that much attention," Buchanan said.

Needless to say, the Broncos were given some blockbuster bulletin-board material.

"Ray's a good guy, but he made that statement, and he has to live with that," Denver defensive end Neil Smith said. "It's been a long time since a guy guaranteed a win in the Super Bowl. Players don't like that stuff."

As Namath did 30 years ago, though, Buchanan usually backs up his boasts. Several times this year, the 5-9 former Louisville star talked boldly about how he was going to play against a big-name receiver, and not once did his words come back to haunt him.

Just two weeks ago, going into the Minnesota game, Buchanan raised eyebrows in his own lockerroom when he said he relished the prospect of facing against Vikings rookie sensation Randy Moss.

"I'm going to bring me a butter knife to find out if he bleeds," Buchanan said. "I'm going to cut him, and if he bleeds, that will let you now this man is human."

Moss was proven human. Buchanan matched up with him much most of the time after halftime, and the rookie sensation was held to one catch for four yards.

That defensive performance followed a stellar regular season in which Buchanan tied for second in the NFC with seven interceptions and also managed 73 tackles.

"It takes a lot of confidence to play on the corner in this league, and it takes even more confidence for him because we expose him every week," Falcons defensive coordinator Rich Brooks said. "We put him on the other team's best receiver, and we leave him man-to-man with no help."

It wasn't that way in the beginning, after Buchanan was signed away from the Indianapolis Colts to a four-year, $13 million contract just weeks after coach Dan Reeves took the Atlanta job in January, 1997.

Buchanan had some tough games early in his Atlanta tenure, including one in which St. Louis' Isaac Bruce caught 10 passes for 223 yards at the Georgia Dome.

"He had Pro Bowl ability all along, but he didn't play at a Pro Bowl level initially," Brooks said. "He's more focused now. He has a tendency, because he's so gregarious, that sometimes he doesn't concentrate on every play like he should. But that's changed a lot this year."

And with that change, Buchanan's confidence has grown and grown. It's visible in his demeanor on and off the field. It's visible in the clothes he wears (designer everything) and the cars he drives (he owns a Mercedes-Benz S500, a Mercedes-Benz SL convertible, a Suburban sports utility vehicle and a black Jaguar XJ8).

"I read in the paper today that somebody called me cocky, but I'm not a cocky player," Buchanan said. "Being a cornerback, you have to have confidence. Otherwise, you get ate up.

"You have to stand on your faith that you can go out and win the game."


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