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As NFL playoffs roll on, teams are looking for a lack of respect

The Bears, Packers, Jets and Steelers have all claimed to have been overlooked, and they're happy to use any sign of disrespect — real or otherwise — as a motivational tool.

January 18, 2011|Sam Farmer

Reporting from New York — Nobody believed in them. Only the people in their locker room thought they could get this far. They are a team of destiny, and Super Bowl XLV is just one win away.

They are the New York Jets.

And the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.

With all due respect, where's all the respect that's due?

Each of the four NFL teams in this weekend's conference championship games have at some point claimed they have been overlooked, undervalued, ignored by all but those rare true believers.

These aren't title games; they're just-hopped-on-the-bandwagon bowls.

People have been waiting for weeks for the Bears to come unglued. The Steelers were doomed from the start, and playing their fourth-string quarterback by Week 3. As for the Packers and Jets, they barely made it into the playoffs as sixth-seeded teams.

"Maybe everybody else didn't believe in us or whatever, but we believed," said Jets Coach Rex Ryan, whose team followed the example set by Green Bay and knocked out the No. 1-seeded team. "We worked too hard to get back here, and we came for a reason. We thought we were the better team."

The Jets latch onto the disrespect card the way Santonio Holmes hangs onto the football — with gusto. Yes, there have been slights, but, as is the case with all teams, everything that can be magnified will be.

"We're all still little football players at heart — and little football players like to be motivated, like to have an edge going into a game, some sort of anger, some reason to be more focused," said CBS analyst Boomer Esiason, a former All-Pro quarterback who spent three of his 14 seasons with the Jets.

"Even as juvenile as it sounds, football players have been conditioned since we began playing that it's an emotional game that requires great focused intensity. So every single one of these coaches are going to try to do that with their teams."

Before the Packers played their divisional game at Atlanta, Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers apprised his players of dismissive comments allegedly made by Falcons fullback Ovie Mughelli.

While saying he didn't know where Capers came up with the comments Mughelli supposedly made after a three-point win over the Packers in November, Green Bay's B.J. Raji said the remarks "kind of fueled our fire a little bit."

Said Raji, in the wake of Saturday's win in the Georgia Dome: "[Mughelli] was saying after the first game how we were soft. When somebody challenges your manhood, you have to respond. It had nothing to do with football. It was just strictly being a man."

Whether those comments were as advertised, or spiced up for effect, they seemed to do the trick. It's not uncommon for coaches and players to go in search of bulletin-board material for snubs, interpreting everything in the most negative way possible.

Last summer, for instance, Pittsburgh's Hines Ward talked about how no one believes in the Steelers, no one was willing to give them the respect they deserve. It's one of his favorite refrains. It dampened the argument a bit when a reporter reminded him Sports Illustrated had picked the Steelers to win the Super Bowl.

That's not to say Ward was (and is) entirely off base. The Steelers have overcome a lot to get this far, including going 3-1 during Ben Roethlisberger's suspension, losing offensive tackles Max Starks and Willie Colon for long stretches, losing their punter, parting ways with their longtime kicker, and generally dealing with turbulence better than many teams would.

If Ward is looking for some backup on the we-get-no-respect argument, he doesn't have to look far.

"People are doubting Hines? Good," Roethlisberger said recently. "He loves proving people wrong."

That's not a unique sentiment in the NFL. The Bears, for one, will happily use disrespect — actual or perceived — as motivation.

"First, we weren't going to make the playoffs," Chicago defensive end Julius Peppers said, according to ESPN. "Then, we couldn't win the division. Now, I think I hear it already. …"

And if he doesn't hear it, he'll just listen harder.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesfarmer

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