SAN JOSE, Calif. — Utter craziness is breaking out all around Jerricho Cotchery. Teammates are dabbin' for the cameras. Cam Newton is holding court. Miss Universe is dancing with players. Grown men with microphones are dressed up in costumes seeking 15 minutes of fame.
Yet for a brief moment during Media Night, the Carolina Panthers wide receiver's mind flashed back to a very, very dark place.
This might sound familiar, too.
Cotchery, 33, grew up a diehard Buffalo Bills fan in Birmingham, Ala. The moment he sees the word "Buffalo" on this reporter's lanyard, he can't help but share his childhood pain... four times over.
“You know, I grew up a Buffalo fan. A Buffalo Bills fan," Cotchery said. "We don’t have any professional teams in Alabama. So I had to pick a team and Buffalo was my team growing up. I was born in ’82 and became a fan when I was 7. That’s when they started the run.”
After the first loss, he cried. He watched quarterback Jim Kelly and the Bills drive into New York territory, watched Scott Norwood's kick sail wide right and the tears poured.
Giants 20, Bills 19.
“One of my brothers and my Dad were just messing with me," he said, "and I sat there and cried. ... We’re in the living room watching it. And just seeing them drive down the field, it was like ‘OK, now the offense is doing their thing. We’re driving down the field like ‘Oh, we want it. We want it!’ And then I felt bad for Scott Norwood. But, yeah, a Buffalo Bills fan.”
You know the rest of the story. The Bills proceeded to epitomize resiliency, perseverance yet lost each Super Bowl.
So there was Cotchery right at that impressionable age of soaking up every second of football coverage he could. He loved the Bills. Some 900 miles away, he might as well have been in Orchard Park, N.Y.
“It was tough, man. It was tough," Cotchery said, his eyes frozen thinking back to the four losses. "That second one, that second one, after the first one I was like, ‘OK, we’re back in it. Now, we’re really about to take care of business and the Redskins handled us. And then losing to Dallas — those last two — was really tough because one of my brothers was a Cowboys fan. That was really tough.”
These days, Cotchery is beating the odds as a 12th-year wide receiver, now on his third team. Cotchery caught 39 passes for 485 yards with three touchdowns this season and teammate Philly Brown lauded him as one of the best leaders on the entire team, one who has helped MVP front-runner Cam Newton in a major way.
Said Brown, "Jerricho Cotchery has also done a good job of molding Cam into being a better leader. Jerricho’s a guy who could be a team captain for the entire team. He’s helped Cam in so many different ways, mentality-wise. Helping him stay focused in games like this."
Growing up in 'Bama, Cotchery's favorite players were receivers Andre Reed and James Lofton. He met Lofton and also said he met running back Thurman Thomas at the bowl game of his senior season at N.C. State. Now, decades later here in California, he has a chance to exorcise those childhood demons in the Super Bowl.
He's never played on this stage but sure understands the heartache.
“Man, it’d be a wonderful feeling," Cotchery said. "Because you’re a fan of football before this dream comes true for you. And you really just appreciate every moment about it.
"At the end of the day, you want to leave your best football out there. You want to be leaving the field saying, ‘I played my best football.’ And if you can leave the field saying that, you just have to live with it.”