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Uncharted territory


Linebacker Dhani Jones was injured as a rookie and didn't appear in a game for the 2000 New York Giants. Linebacker Nate Wayne was a rookie who played in one game for the 1998 Denver Broncos. Fullback Jon Ritchie was a 2002 Oakland Raider, but he's missed most of this season with an injury and won't play in next week's Super Bowl. Tight end Mike Bartrum was a reserve for New England in 1996, as was tight end Jeff Thomason in Green Bay in 1996-97.

If you're talking the secrets of playing in the NFC title game, the Eagles are your resident experts. But as far as Super Bowl experience as a starter, only Levens, and a pair of 1999 Tennessee Titans --- defensive end Jevon Kearse and offensive tackle Jon Runyan --- know the secret handshake in the Philadelphia locker room. But they are trying to indoctrinate their teammates as much as possible this week, along with Eagles head coach Andy Reid, who reached Super Sunday twice as a Green Bay assistant on Mike Holmgren's staff.

"Andy has relayed the message pretty much, but the hardest thing is to get guys to listen," Levens said. "Once you get down there and see what's going on, and how everybody's all around you, it's hard not to get caught up in it. The biggest thing is to get all the extra stuff out of the way before you get down there. All the tickets, hotels, air fare, family, friends, a million people calling you for tickets. There's so many distractions."

Every player on both the Patriots and Eagles gets the right to buy up to 15 Super Bowl tickets, which last year were worth $500 at face value. That right there tells the players that this is definitely not just another game.

"My 15 are gone, and they went quick," Bartrum said. "This might be the last go-round for me, so I wanted to get everybody to the game who wanted to go."

For Jones, his rookie experience at the Giants-Ravens Super Bowl barely registers with him. Instead it was last year, when he played roving correspondent for the NFL Network, that gave him a taste of what's in store this week.

"With the Giants, I wasn't really a part of if because I was injured, and you're kind of kept to the side," Jones said. "I was never even at the practices. I never saw media day. But now I know most of the fanfare is for the people going to the game, not the players and coaches.

"It's going to be a challenge, because all of a sudden you're on the top of the mountain and everybody's looking up to you and they want a piece of you. They're pulling on you, and that's one of the hardest times of your life when you're on top and everybody's trying to get something from you."

Runyan remembers his Super Bowl experience as a chaotic, hectic week filled with conflicting demands. Then again, he's tickled pink to have two weeks in between the conference title game and the Super Bowl, because when Tennessee and St. Louis played five years ago, there was no extra week to help ease the time crunch.

"I don't care for anything about Super Bowl week but the game," Runyan said. "The rest of it is kind of a drag and a circus. It's not the funnest week of the year, but it's part of what you have to go through to get to Sunday and play in the biggest game of your life."

His advice?

"Don't plan on having any time to yourself, that's the biggest thing," he said. "In between having to travel back and forth to practice all the time and the media obligations in the morning, there's not a lot of time to relax or do anything until late in the evening when you can do things with your family or friends. And you even tend to stay away from them because they are just as big a fans as everybody else out there."

There is at least one more commandment that Levens has been stressing to his Eagles teammates this week, that being "Thou shalt covet thy neighbor's ring."

After all, even with all the hype buzzing around their heads during Super Bowl week, the players never forget that the ring's the thing.

"It's such an important game, so just know you're going to be on edge the entire time you're playing the game," Levens said. "You never lose track of that. It's the Super Bowl, and you won't ever forget that. What you have to do is just try to calm down as soon as possible out there, because you're going to get so excited and the adrenaline's going to be flowing.

"Both times it took me probably about a quarter, but even after the adrenaline slows down, you're still a nervous wreck. And the whole game, that's not going to stop."

Levens knows. He's been there, and done that. And that makes him perhaps the most Super prepared Eagle of all.