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Cameras Know Where He Is

November 23, 2002|Sam Farmer

On the day Emmitt Smith broke the NFL rushing record, San Diego defensive end Marcellus Wiley was breaking new ground for CBS.

The Chargers were off that Sunday, and Wiley, whose vibrant personality and skill as a player have made him a media magnet, was in New York as a guest analyst on "The NFL Today." The show is shot on an outdoor set on Fifth Avenue that's fashioned to look like part of a football field.

Instead of quietly mulling what he wanted to say, or nervously waiting for the red light to pop on, Wiley used the commercial breaks to work the live audience into a lather. He urged cheers by throwing his arms into the air, just as he might at Qualcomm Stadium. He did his "Bucking the Bolt" sack dance. Frankly, he put all other guest hosts to shame.

"Marcellus is the first guy we've ever had that got the crowd involved," said Eric Mann, the show's senior producer. "He also had his full name stitched into the cuff of his sleeve, and gold buttons on his suit with MW on them. He's the first guy I've ever seen whose clothes put Deion Sanders in his place."

It isn't just his sartorial splendor that makes Wiley the most likely NFL player to wind up in America's living room. He has emerged as a high-profile fixture on a San Diego defense that already has Pro Bowl players Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison.

"He's the No. 1 guy that the media requests," Bill Johnston, Charger director of public relations said of Wiley. "Even if the story isn't about Marcellus, people want to talk to him. They all want to hear what he has to say."

That's not to say Wiley is all talk. He has made two huge plays in the last two weeks, one in a loss and the other in a victory. Two weeks ago, he forced Marshall Faulk to fumble near the goal line, just as the St. Louis running back was about to score. Last Sunday, Wiley tackled San Francisco quarterback Jeff Garcia for a five-yard loss in overtime, meaning 49er kicker Jose Cortez had an even longer field goal attempt two plays later -- a kick Cortez missed. The Chargers lost to the Rams and beat the 49ers.

Wiley, who went to Columbia, is one of the few Ivy League players to make an impact in the pros. He was a second-round pick by Buffalo in 1997 and spent his first four seasons with the Bills. He went to San Diego last season and made the Pro Bowl with 13 sacks and five forced fumbles. He missed the better part of three games this season because of a groin injury and is well off his 2001 pace with four sacks and one forced fumble, but he still commands the respect of offensive linemen.

"He learned a lot when he played with Bruce [Smith]," said Miami offensive lineman Mark Dixon, whose team will play host to the Chargers on Sunday. "He mimics [Smith's] game a lot. Speed. Quickness. He's the total package. Coming off an injury, he looks like his game is back."

Off the field, Wiley's game never left. Like the glossy black Hummer he drives, he's capable of covering all terrains. A sampling of a recent conversation:

* On attending an Ivy League school: "Kids will say, 'Man, you're smart. You went to Columbia.' I say, 'No, all I did is stay in the house one more cartoon.' Maybe somebody else went out to play, and I'd say, 'I'm going to study 30 more minutes, then I'm going outside to play.' I didn't miss anything, and I finally got used to that."

* On the influence of his parents, both postal employees in Los Angeles: "All my character comes from my mom, and all my objectives and principles in life come from my dad. He's kind of like my outline, and she colors me in."

* On collecting throwback football jerseys, a staple of his wardrobe: "I have a Johnny Unitas one, an all-white one. Oh, man, that's crucial. That's big time. That's when you're at the party. I want to wear that at a black-tie function, a place where athletes are exceptions, and I'll walk in with that. Oh, my goodness. With a white headband on? People wouldn't even talk to me; it would kill them."

* On a potential stumbling block to a TV career: "I'm not a football historian. I draw a blank when you go prior to 1996. I'm like, 'Uh, who?' I always thought that was going to hold me back. People have always said I have the personality or I can articulate well enough to do it. But when people say, 'Oh, I see a comparison between Jeremy Shockey and Mark Bavaro,' and I'll say, 'Mark Bavaro? Who's Mark Bavaro?' "

* On the anonymity of playing at Columbia: "If we were on TV, we were on ESPN3 with our game score running across that ticker across the bottom of the screen."

Rest assured, Wiley will never be trapped in the ticker again.

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