MIAMI — Nick Turnbull can still close his eyes and hear the roar, that perpetual soundtrack for the two-hand touch staredowns on the streets of his Pembroke Pines neighborhood.
“I grew up right down the street,” the 25-year-old said as he cast a glance toward the empty Dolphin Stadium bleachers, as if Mom’s head had just appeared from Section 125 calling for supper. “I was playing in the street and acting like the crowd here was our crowd. Now I’m in the Super Bowl. I still can’t believe it.”
If it’s surreal now, wait until Sunday, when Turnbull, a backup safety for the Bears, becomes the first player from nearby Florida International to play in a Super Bowl.
“I thought I’d have a good chance to play in the NFL, (but) I never thought about the Super Bowl, especially not in my first year,” said Turnbull, plucked by the Bears after Atlanta, the team that signed him as an unrestricted free agent, cut him in December. “I talked to some of my coaches in Atlanta and some of them had been to the playoffs only twice after playing in the league for, like, 13 years. Now I’ve get a chance to get a Super Bowl ring. Dan Marino didn’t even get a Super Bowl ring, and I know he’d trade anything for it.”
Sure, Turnbull’s become a bit more visible of late - particularly to those high school buddies who are curiously calling again - but he’s most proud of what this sudden fame might do for the city’s “other” D-I program down the road.
The 5-year-old Golden Panthers, who just hired former Hurricanes assistant Mario Cristobal after a winless season marred by an on-field brawl with their cross-town rivals at the Orange Bowl, stands to get the biggest popularity boost.
SUPER BOWL XLI
“People are gonna see they actually have the chance to go from FIU to the NFL,” Turnbull said. “Then when they see I’m here, they’ll say, ‘Aw, man, he’s even in the Super Bowl.’”
Turnbull, who played two games on special teams for the Falcons and lined up at safety in Chicago’s Dec. 17 win at Tampa Bay, said he’s also gotten over the initial disappointment of his team’s actions in the melee. He confessed not knowing much about Cristobal, the renowned recruiter who spent just one season as the Hurricanes offensive line coach, but said he supported the program’s decision after Don Strock resigned midway through what became an 0-12 campaign.
“FIU is trying to grow and they think that’s a better step than what they had,” said Turnbull, the program’s all-time leader in interceptions with 16. “Hopefully my being here can help us grow, too.”
NICE WELCOME: Dolphins defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday, working for Miami’s local NBC affiliate during the Media Day festivities on Tuesday morning, interrupted former teammate Brendon Ayanbadejo with a welcome as chilly as the record-lows.
“You’re comin’ here and takin’ over my stadium?!?” Holliday yelled.
“Not this week it’s not your stadium,” Ayanbadejo snorted. “This is gonna be Soldier Field in Miami.”
There may be no one, by the way, happier about his South Florida homecoming than Ayanbadejo, who was named to his first Pro Bowl this year as a Bears special teamer.
Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Dolphins out of UCLA, the 6-foot-1, 228-pound linebacker totaled 42 special teams tackles with Miami in his first two seasons from 2003-04. He was shipped to the Bears for TE John Owens, who was cut by the Dolphins a week after the trade, and a conditional draft pick before the 2005 season.
The 29-year-old, who still lives in Fort Lauderdale, likened his return to that of teammate Adewale Ogunleye, another former Dolphin who has said all week that his career would come “full circle” with a win in Super Bowl XLI. “We’re coming to a place where they no longer wanted us, regardless of who’s on the staff now and who made those decisions,” said Ayanbadejo, who played his rookie season with his brother, Obafemi, in Miami. “We’re not here to play in a regular game. We’re here to play in the Super Bowl. I think that says something about the caliber of players we are, and it says something about why we’re not here and why we’re playing for a Super Bowl.”
LEVITY: A reporter from the Armed Forces Network asked Colts quarterback Peyton Manning what he would like to say to the estimated 3 million U.S. troops who will be watching Sunday’s Super Bowl.
“I’d just say, ‘Thank you for all your support,’” Manning said. “‘As football players, we realize what we’re doing is very small compared to the battle that you guys are fighting every single day. And as players - and as Americans - we appreciate the fight that you are fightin’ for us. We wish you all the best and our prayers are with you.’”
THE SHORT ANSWER: Someone asked Manning if he feels he “got over a psychological hump against the Patriots” with the 38-34 win in the AFC Championship Game.
Manning stared blankly at the questioner.
“No,” he said.
AMERICAN IDOLS: Two former “American Idol” contestants somehow gained credentials and conducted crazy interviews during the Colts session of Media Day.
One wore a Colts jersey, the other, a Bears top.
Tight end Dallas Clark immediately recognized the pair and welcomed them.
Their only questions: “What’s your favorite sport?”
“College basketball,” Clark replied.
“Will you sing with us?”
Clark grinned but didn’t bite. Then the duo sang a horrific rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” After much encouragement, Clark joined in for the last couple of lines.
“It was good to see those faces,” Clark said after the pair departed. “You see them on TV and here they are asking questions. I’m a fan of the show and it was cool they could be able to be out here.”