Bryant wants second chance, not second place

"My biggest thing was, I wanted a shot at a ring, and that's the reason I came here."

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Cornerback Fernando Bryant was set to face record-setting quarterback Kurt Warner in the Super Bowl nine years ago.

But the Tennessee Titans denied Bryant that opportunity by thumping his Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC championship game.

Warner went on to pass for a record 414 yards and two touchdowns, and he captured MVP honors as the St. Louis Rams held off the Titans, 23-16, in Super Bowl XXXIV at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Bryant, a 10-year veteran and former first-round draft pick, has not played in a playoff game since that ugly loss to Tennessee following the 1999 season.

"I was supposed to see Kurt in the Super Bowl when I was a rookie with Jacksonville in 1999," Bryant said. "That's who we were supposed to play. It didn't happen."

Bryant hopes to square off Sunday against Warner when the Steelers play the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Fla.

Bryant signed with the Steelers Nov. 11 after injuries depleted their secondary, but he played in just two regular-season games. He has been inactive the past seven, including both playoff contests.

"I don't know if I'll dress for the Super Bowl, but I might, especially with what Kurt and Arizona do offensively. I'm getting a little antsy [about not playing], but I understand the concept of team.

"It's an unbelievable dream to be in a Super Bowl. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Of course, it would mean a lot more to me if I played. But, at this stage of my career, it won't diminish the concept."

Bryant, 5 feet 10 and 175 pounds, spent five years with the Jaguars (1999-2003) and four more with the Detroit Lions (2004-07). The Lions released him in February for salary cap reasons -- he was scheduled to earn $4 million in 2008.

He signed with the New England Patriots, but was released before the start of the season when they trimmed their roster to the mandatory 53 players. The Rams, Lions and Buffalo Bills eventually inquired about Bryant's availability, but he vowed to return to the NFL only with a playoff-caliber team.

"It was all about the right opportunity," he said. "Being an older player, I wasn't in a big hurry to sign with anybody. I kind of wanted to wait and see what happened. I knew after being with Detroit the last four years, I wanted to go to a winning team and organization."

Bryant, 31, joined the Steelers' secondary after cornerbacks Bryant McFadden and Deshea Townsend were out with injuries.

"My biggest thing was, I wanted a shot at a ring, and that's the reason I came here," Bryant said.

He had made 109 previous starts in the NFL, but Bryant served as the Steelers' nickel back in two regular-season victories against the San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals. He managed three tackles and broke up a pass.

"He's a good guy who has put in his share of hard work," free safety Ryan Clark said. "It's been fun helping give him the opportunity to go to the Super Bowl."

Bryant is one of 10 defensive backs on the roster and one of three cornerbacks from Alabama, joining Townsend, an 11-year veteran, and Anthony Madison, a third-year pro.

"Fernando is real laid back," cornerback Ike Taylor said. "He knows the game. He's a quality guy to have on the team. I'm glad we got him.

"He and Deshea, they are the veterans. I love to pick their brains, see what they know, see what they think."

Ron Musselman can be reached at .


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