SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The master of the touchdown celebration doesn't wait until he crosses the goal line to get into character. "Oh, I'm celebrating about five yards before I get in the end zone," says the flamboyant wideout. "If I don't have anything planned already, then I just go off the moment, the mood or the music. Sometimes you have to make something out of nothing."
He's been pounding out the yards since 1990, but just when the end seemed nigh for the future Hall of Famer, he erupted for 144 more on Thanksgiving Day—against the hated Redskins, no less—upping his NFL career rushing record to 17,021 yards. "Why should I be amazed?" he said afterward through his Cheshire-cat grin. "I know what I can do. This is my job. I don't feel old at all."
GREEK BAY PACKERS
It's not the 41,584 career passing yards, or the 309 touchdown passes, or even the remarkable 169 consecutive starts (185 if you count playoff games, which we do). Favre is the most beloved player in the game because, come Sunday, he's a big, beguiling kid again, having so much fun that it doesn't matter if he's throwing off the wrong foot or into triple coverage. "For [a defense] to pick up on any one tendency would be tough," he says, "when I'm not quite sure where I'm going to throw it."
Tim Brown Jerry Rice
Between them Brown and Rice have played in 258 road games during their illustrious careers, and both wideouts love to silence those hostile crowds. "To me there's no better feeling in football than to be in Kansas City, Denver or San Diego, one of those places where the fans are just crazy," Brown says. "You come out of the tunnel and look around with a little smile and think, I hope I can shut you guys up today." The desire to make that crowd-quieting big play isn't something Brown and Rice have to discuss. "Tim and I just look at each other," says Rice. "When his eyes meet mine, we just know"
If he's on your team, you love him, but if he's on the other side, this 15-year veteran linebacker becomes public enemy No. 1. Once, after drawing a hefty fine for a shot that broke a quarterback's jaw, Romanowski suggested that everything had changed at his position since the days of Ray Nitschke and Dick Butkus: "They didn't get fined $20,000 for hitting a quarterback hard. They got a pat on the back."
The intimidating presence of this All-Pro middle linebacker haunts opposing running backs. "I think they look for me, one way or another," Lewis says. "They might not see me, but they know I'm coming. I love making that first lick, which I call a tone setter."
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
When he gets into a tense two-minute situation, the crafty quarterback attempts to transfer the stress to the defense. "I try to use reverse psychology," Garcia says. "Even though there is a lot of pressure on you to get the ball down the field to score, you can make it work to your advantage. It's important to make the defense realize that you have some control."
TAMPA BAY BUCS
The line between honesty and arrogance has never been more blurry than it is with the enigmatic Johnson, who has never shied from telling it like it is—at least from his perspective. "I'll give the corner some sort of movement going the opposite way of where I want to go," he says. And when the catch is made? "I'll let him know I got the first down. I'll have some fun with him."
Trying to carry on a legacy at a position that has come to symbolize a city—such as middle linebacker in Chicago—can be a career killer, but the play of the 24-year-old Urlacher has earned him favorable comparisons with his predecessors, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary. It doesn't hurt that Urlacher knows a perfect hit when he delivers one: "You both know there's going to be a collision. I lower my head, he lowers his head. Then there's the hit. He falls. I'm standing over him. We both know who won."
TAMPA BAY BUGS
It's a sight to behold: his knees churning, arms swinging, defenders bouncing off him as they would a rolling boulder. "I'm trying to pound the ball, to break their back," he says simply. "I feel their frustration."