Six Pack

Carolina's dominant D-Line keeps pounding NFL celebrities. Is Tom Brady next?

Originally Published: January 19, 2004
By David Fleming and Luke Cyphers | ESPN The Magazine

They punk'd Mike Martz, forced the genius to second-guess. They trash-canned Bill Parcells, reminding him that beneath his big aura and blond hair-coloring is a hustler reliant on Quincy Carter. Donovan McNabb? They hurt his feelings a lot more than Limbaugh did.

Meet the Carolina Panthers' defensive line, a group of mostly no-names who've made postseason life miserable for a lot of marquee names. The six players -- starting ends Mike Rucker and Julius Peppers, tackles Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner and backups Al Wallace and Shane Burton -- have been the bedrock of Carolina's two-year transformation from 1-15 pushover to Super Bowl party crasher. They have speed (Peppers), power (Jenkins), know-how (Rucker), experience (Buckner) and depth (Burton, Wallace). Most of all, they have chemistry.

"I've studied the great defenses, like the Purple People Eaters and Steel Curtain," Buckner says. "And the common denominator is that unspoken trust and shared sense of excellence with whoever puts his hand in the dirt next to you." Adds Panthers defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac: "These guys have the potential to become one of those nickname-type lines."

Luke Cyphers is a former senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

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