|BRANDON SPIKES Dressed for success|
Job seems to suit Spikes
Linebacker has fashioned himself into dependable player
INDIANAPOLIS - The dazzling pink ensemble he donned for the Patriots’ Super Bowl send-off last Sunday at Gillette Stadium - pink-striped suit, pink shirt, pink floral-pattern tie, and matching pocket square - seemed to make a bold fashion statement.
After all, it takes a certain kind of man to pull off that look, confidently.
But as he has done as a second-year linebacker, Brandon Spikes has proven he is well-suited for the job.
“Brought the lucky suit out again,’’ Spikes tweeted after the Patriots departed for Indianapolis to face the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI.
Evidently, the first time Spikes wore his pink-striped number - cue the theme from “The Pink Panther’’ - was in January 2009 when he helped the University of Florida win its third national title, over Oklahoma.
“The only other time I didn’t wear it in a championship game, it was against Alabama and it was a game I lost,’’ Spikes said, referring to a loss in the Southeastern Conference championship game. “I’ve had this suit since high school; two high school championships, two national championships. Should have been three, but the cleaners closed early.’’
Spikes will make the first Super Bowl appearance on Sunday. He demurred when asked if he would don his lucky threads for the Duck Boat parade if the Patriots were to win.
“I’m not going to wear it, it’s only for the show,’’ Spikes said. “It’s only for big games, big championship games.’’
And Spikes will have played in none bigger than the Super Bowl.
“Playing in the SEC championship and the [BCS] national championship, it definitely prepared me for the big stage,’’ Spikes said. “But it wasn’t as big as this.’’
Spikes got a sense of the magnitude of the NFL playoffs when he started the AFC Championship game and helped the Patriots defeat the Ravens, 23-20. He led the Patriots with nine tackles, and the first postseason interception of his career when he picked off Joe Flacco in the fourth quarter.
Spikes no doubt energized his teammates with his sartorial splendor off the field, but also with his rugged play on it. No matter whether it comes to football or fashion, Spikes brings his own flavor to the game.
“It’s just that when it comes to football, I’m a very passionate guy,’’ Spikes said. “Football has done everything for me. It brought a whole new life for me. It changed my life, you could say. It saved my life from the street. It saved me from getting caught up in stuff like that, so I just can’t cheat it.
“It’s just the energy and the emotion I get from it and it just shows. A lot of players just gravitate to it and it’s real.’’
The AFC Championship was Spikes’s third game back after missing seven of eight recovering from a knee injury suffered in a Nov. 6 loss to the Giants. It was the last setback the Patriots suffered before going on a 10-game winning streak that propelled them to their seventh Super Bowl appearance.
“Spikes is a great player,’’ said fellow linebacker Jerod Mayo. “He brings a lot of energy to the game. Any time you lose a guy like that, it’s pretty tough on a defense. We have that next-man-up mentality, and guys really stepped in and helped fill the void, but it’s good having him back in the lineup.’’
The Patriots have come to enjoy the physical presence the 6-foot-2-inch, 250-pound Spikes brings to the linebacking corps with his blend of size, strength, and striking power.
“Brandon comes from a good background, a good program, a good defensive background,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “Brandon’s a very instinctive player and he catches on quickly and he kind of knows where the ball is.
“Sometimes it’s not exactly how you would coach it, in terms of the keys, his footwork and steps and all that. But he has a good ability to find the ball and to know where the play is. The interception he had [against the Ravens] and the one he had against the Jets last year were both similar plays.’’
Said Spikes, “I just read my keys and I’m responsible for the vertical guy, and the guy went vertical. He put the ball out there and I was able to stick a paw out there and make a play. It came at the right moment, and it was big. It felt good.’’
The Patriots were unable to capitalize on the turnover, handing it right back to the Ravens when Tom Brady was intercepted on a throw to Matthew Slater in the end zone against double coverage. But Spikes sent a message that he loomed large in the Patriots’ defense.
“You don’t see a lot of linebackers, inside linebackers, with that kind of height,’’ Belichick said, who compared Spikes to former Giants linebacker Pepper Johnson, who is now the Patriots’ defensive line coach. “Those guys are a little more compact than that, so he’s a pretty powerful guy. [Brian] Urlacher’s another one.
“I think that’s a problem for the quarterback, because of their height, their size, their range, they get their hands on a lot of balls. He’s got power and he strikes with a good thump, whether it’s tackling or taking on blockers. He’s done a real good job for us and gives us a different presence in there.’’
Spikes’s appetite for contact is voracious.
“It’s just the linebacker’s mentality that you’ve got to let opponents know that you’re going to bring it, because I’m bringing it every play,’’ he said. “If you don’t, I’m trying to give it to you. I’m trying to embarrass you. It’s just that linebacker mentality. Being a linebacker, you kind of welcome that physical play. There’s no other way you should be as a linebacker.’’
Asked what kind of difference he hoped to make on Sunday, Spikes replied, “I just want to make sure that I’m that guy who’s accountable. I’m the type of guy when I get my number called, I want to get the job done. That’s the only thing I can control. I don’t want to let my teammates down.
“Everybody’s been working hard throughout the entire week. You only get one opportunity and I want to make sure that I make the best of it.’’
Spikes won’t just be driven to succeed. He’ll be dressed for it, as well.
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.