SAN JOSE, Calif.— The man the Carolina Panthers consider the uncle of a brash, opportunistic secondary isn’t fazed by the bright lights of Super Bowl 50.
Roman Harper has been in this position before.
The longtime Saints safety, a member of the New Orleans defense that beat Peyton Manning and handed the Saints their only Lombardi Trophy, is one of only three Panthers who have a Super Bowl ring — tight end Ed Dickson and tackle Michael Oher won a title with the Baltimore Ravens in the Superdome.
But Harper’s imprint has been all over the Carolina defense all season.
Early in this 2015 campaign, Harper saw something special in this Panthers team, something that reminded him of the 2009 Saints, even though he infamously said that those Saints were a partying bunch in contrast to the Panthers workmanlike approach.
“Just throughout the year, just kind of breeding confidence in them,” Harper said. “Just understanding we can handle this. This is just another opportunity for us to go out there and show what we’ve been able to do all year long. That we’re built for this, we’re prepared for it.”
Now that the Panthers are in the middle of the Super Bowl whirlwind, Harper is the calm for the Panthers among the storm.
When he played in the Super Bowl with the Saints, Harper was still a young player, coming into his own as a veteran starter in his fourth season.
“The one with the Saints, man, is a blur. It was so long ago,” Harper said.
“I think the biggest (difference) is 50. Everything is in gold. But at the end of the day, it’s still going to be the same game. It’s going to be a Super Bowl, so you’re going to have all the flashing lights and everything, all the media attention early.
“It’s not really all on your schedule. You understand that the media plays a big part in this. You’re going to have your media obligations every day, but after that, you focus in when you have to practice. Afterward, we hang out, get to hang with the guys and see what San Jose is about.”
Harper’s teammates have taken his lead.
“It brings a guy who stays level when the excitement’s at an all-time high, letting us know that there’s more to do,” safety Tre Boston said. “It gives you a guy that pretty much lays out the blueprint to how we can do this. He’s seen this story before. This might be a different story, but he’s seen it end up the way it should.”
Harper’s voice is one among many on a Carolina team stocked with veterans like Charles “Peanut” Tillman, linebacker Thomas Davis and Jared Allen.
Harper and Tillman, in particular, have a key role, wrangling a secondary that has some of the biggest personalities on the team outside of quarterback Cam Newton.
“Roman’s been here and won it. And Peanut’s been here and lost it,” Panthers safety Kurt Coleman said. “Two different spectrums, and I think both are very valuable, because you can learn just as much from a loss as a win. Without their leadership, their experience and their wisdom, we wouldn’t be where we are.”
Beyond his leadership role, Harper’s biggest concern entering Super Bowl week was the eye injury he suffered against Carolina.
Harper said the eye won’t be a problem.
“I had Lasik (surgery) seven years ago,” Harper said. “It’s kind of like they lasered a contact over it so I could see. The contact just came off when Luke (Kuechly) hit me, so I couldn’t really see. My vision was blurry out of my right eye, so they didn’t want me to go back because I could mess it up worse, and then I’d have to have surgery. So, I laid back down flat, I can see 20/20 and I’m good.”
Now, Harper can focus on the task at hand. And as somebody who’s been part of a city’s only Super Bowl winner, he knows exactly how much this would mean to Charlotte and the rest of the Carolinas in general.
“I’m just excited, not only for myself, but for this team, this organization, this city,” Harper said. “It is an opportunity to do something great, do something special. Nobody ever gave this team or this organization credit for how great they are and how good of people they are. For us to go out here and be world champs would be something special, something great.”