|Former Raven Adalius Thomas was inactive for Baltimore's win in Super Bowl XXXV. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - He has tried to soak up everything the second time around. The sights. The sounds. The warm weather. The media attention. Everything.
But his first trip to the Super Bowl? Adalius Thomas felt like an accidental tourist when the Baltimore Ravens deactivated him for their victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
A seldom-used rookie defensive end/special teamer out of Southern Mississippi, Thomas tried not to let that snub ruin the whole experience.
"I remember a lot about it, and had a great time, but it's a little different when you're playing," said Thomas, who will play a much more prominent role Sunday as the Patriots' starting outside linebacker in Super Bowl XLII at University of Phoenix Stadium.
"I can't say [this trip] is more meaningful, because it meant a lot to me to make it the first time," said Thomas. "The first time you think about, 'This is only my rookie year and this is all it is? I'll be here a lot.' And I haven't [been back] until now, so it's definitely a lot more rewarding now that you understand and you do savor all your moments."
What will make this moment all the sweeter is that Thomas will again face the Giants in the Super Bowl. And this time, the experience will be shared by Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, a distant cousin of Thomas.
"Our family is proud of both of us," said Thomas, a native of Equality, Ala., where he attended Central Coosa High School, idolized Charles Barkley, and led the basketball team to a 31-1 record and state title as its leading scorer, rebounder, and shot-blocker. "I couldn't even tell you how we are related and I don't even want to try because I'd mess it up. Our mothers would have to sit you down and tell you."
Is it a twisted family tree, with many entangled branches?
"I guess you call it a tree, but it's more like a forest, so that's how it kind of goes," Thomas said, chuckling.
Said Tuck, "My grandmother and his grandmother were cousins, so we're a little farther down in the [family] tree as far as that goes, but that's the gist of it."
Thomas joked last week, "They're calling it the Coosa County Bowl instead of the Super Bowl [because of] where we're from.
"It's so funny, though - two guys from the same area, which is a very rural part of Alabama to play in the same Super Bowl. So one family will be happy and one family will be kind of sad."
For Thomas, though, it's already been a season to remember. After seven seasons with the Ravens, Thomas was aggressively pursued by the Patriots as a free agent, and was lured with an unheard of $20 million bonus.
It was the culmination of a process that began during Pro Bowl week in Honolulu, where Thomas became acquainted with Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Evidently, Thomas liked what he saw and did everything in his power to fit into Belichick's system.
"As a newcomer, you don't want to be the thumb, you want to be one of the fingers," Thomas said. "You want to just try to blend in with the guys. I think I've done a good job of that. I don't want any extra attention. You can have all of that and it doesn't really bother me."
When outside linebacker Rosevelt Colvin went down with season-ending foot injury and was placed on injured reserve Nov. 27, Thomas was forced to make a sudden switch from inside to outside linebacker.
"You have to be smart in order to be part of this crew," said veteran inside linebacker Junior Seau. "Obviously, he's a special talent and what he's been able to do here in Boston in the short time that he's been here has been great. Just him taking over [for] Rosie and really solidifying that outside position in terms of turning everything in so we can do damage inside; containing and pass rushing and doing the things that he does, there are so many facets of his game you can look at and marvel."
But Thomas, who finished third on the team with 82 tackles and tied for second with 6 1/2 sacks, has taken his success in stride, lest he suffer a lesson in humility from Belichick in team meetings.
"Humble pie," Thomas said, evoking a motto he made popular this season in the locker room. "That's the thing. He's just keeping us humble. You hear from the media how great you are and when you get in the team meeting, it's totally different. You are only as good as your weaknesses. You go out there and work on things that you aren't good at. When you do that, it helps you get better as a team."
It's that attention to detail, that focus, and that dedication to hard work that has brought Thomas and the Patriots to the brink of a 19-0 season.
"I don't think you can just show up and say, 'OK, I'm in the Super Bowl, I'm gonna do this.' You have to prepare for whatever scheme and for whatever things you plan on doing and study your opponent a little extra," Thomas said. "That's the one thing about it: There will never be another Super Bowl XLII and you're a part of that. You're not guaranteed to be a part of anything else, because everything changes. This is the last game this team will be the same. After that, with NFL free agency and everything, all that will change.
"This team will never be again after Sunday, so you just try to savor that moment and be the best that you can be as a team and as an individual."
And soak up as much as you can.
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.