SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Ask Panthers cornerback Josh Norman who his greatest non-football hero is, and you get a mile-long stare. He squints his eyes and smiles. After four days of relentless rapid-fire questioning, he is gracious enough to even be thinking this hard.
"Yes. Musician ... anyone."
He's got it.
"I think everyone wanted to be the Ultimate Warrior," he contently told Around The NFL. "Watching wrestling, I want to be that guy."
Here at his first Super Bowl, Norman can safely say that his mission was accomplished. The Ultimate Warrior was unrivaled during his World Wrestling Federation heyday; somehow he found a way to not only be louder and flashier than his counterparts, but also stronger and more powerful. Norman is fearless, and even under the brightest lights he's seen so far, he refuses to wilt. This, despite a near constant stream of analysts, opponents and fans suggesting he's not one of the best cornerbacks in football.
He rides horses, talks trash and draws strength from an imaginary "utility belt" that he wears during every game. Ron Rivera, before games, will walk up to Norman and say: "OK man. Go be Batman." On Super Bowl Opening Night, he donned a custom luchador mask for the majority of his media session
"Since I was in middle school, actually coming up, like I always knew I was gonna be here," Norman said. "I was always had that thought it my progression, in my mind. Just getting to the point of getting here, man, and overcoming all the obstacles that I was faced with. That was the main thing for me because I knew the talent that I had, it was just all gonna work that hard to meet that talent. And the things that I had to overcome, they was just a test for me in order to say okay, are you gonna go through this wall or are you gonna get stuck behind it? And I just kept hitting man."
On Wednesday, Carolina's Ultimate Warrior was called out by Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders rolled his eyes when asked about Norman, and said that Norman "talked his way into the media."
"You have to be pretty darned good at what you do to talk your way into the spotlight," Norman said. "I'm sure if you're not good, you're not recognized as one of the best, and I guess people don't want to know about that person. So I don't know where he got that one.
"I haven't been hearing much about him, so obviously he might want to go back and practice some more."
Norman intimated that it was easy for Sanders to do the talking because he knows he probably won't face Norman much.
"I don't have any thoughts on the guy except: see you on Sunday. And I don't know if I will. I guess that's why he's doing all the talking," he said. "I haven't heard much from 88 so that's good."
Norman is unique in that he relishes just about everything he's been painted as. A villain? OK. A fire starter? Fine. His self-image is much clearer, and he has taken time during his meteoric surge in popularity to note who has treated him fairly and who has not.
One sect, outside of the traditional media, has been former player analysts. Norman endured an immense amount of criticism for a 60-minute long brawl with Odell Beckham Jr. on Dec. 20 that resulted in a one-game suspension for Beckham and a $26,044 fine for Norman.
Player analysts are supposed to convey his side of the story, Norman thought. They all tried to be Ultimate Warriors once. They remember how it is.
"You would like to have that," Norman said when asked if he would have liked an analyst trying to understand his perspective more. "Then you would know they were not biased in what they believe. They've been there. They've been in that moment. The heat that's being thrown at you. And you sit up and watch that ... it was just disgusting man. So alright man, you don't have any credentials with me man. That's all. And I don't have any credentials with you."
Then again, maybe that's the point of being the Warrior. Nobody is going to understand you but you. And nobody else matters.