'Kraken' could be just what Pro Bowl needs

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- I learned something new about "The Kraken," aka Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, during a Thursday phone call from the NFL Pro Bowl in Honolulu.

"Kraken don't surf or swim," Hardy said of his alter persona when asked if he was enjoying the outdoor activities in Hawaii during his first trip to the all-star game. "I walk on the bottom."

Hardy also doesn't take it easy on opposing quarterbacks and running backs -- even in a meaningless game.

"I'm going to get the job done as efficiently and effectively as I always do," said Hardy, who finished second in the NFL in sacks with 15 this past season.

The Pro Bowl has been criticized recently because players don't perform at the same high energy level they do during the regular season and playoffs. Last year's game has been compared to a pillow fight by some.

There's even more concern going into Sunday's game with a new format in which defensive players could have an opportunity to tackle their own teammates.

Hardy understands. But, he added, "You've got to be a monster to play defense. Monsters don't have [grading] curves."

I can't imagine Hardy, a player who says he's not happy unless he's collecting a paycheck or sacks, taking it easy in this game. That he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent if the Panthers don't sign him to a long-term deal or put the franchise tag on him might be added incentive to show the rest of the football world what he's about.

"If they're going to give me the win, I'm going to take it easy," Hardy said. "If not, you know me, I've got to do my thing."

Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, the honorary captain for the team Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano will pit against Carolina coach Ron Rivera, might have gotten a steal when he selected Hardy in the 11th round on the second day of the game's first-ever draft.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton may have gotten lucky that Sanders made him Hardy's teammate and not his target.

"I don't know about that," Hardy said with a laugh. "I love that guy. I'm glad he's on my team. I'm pretty sure he's going to lead us to a victory once I get him the ball back."

Hall of Famer Jerry Rice and New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, one of his co-captains for Rivera's team, may be regretting the decision not to take Hardy. Brees in particular should be wary. Hardy sacked him three times and hurried him four other times in a Week 16 loss to the Panthers.

For some, this game might be about a vacation in Hawaii. For Hardy, it's about what he didn't feel he got on draft day four years ago when he fell to Carolina in the sixth round, what he still doesn't believe he has fully after a career-best season.

It has nothing to do with a new deal.

"The money will work itself out," said Hardy, whose first preference is to stay at Carolina. "This is more so to get the respect. I feel I deserve the money. But respect doesn't come without work. I've still got stuff to prove.

"I want to be the guy that everybody wants. I want to be the guy that everybody talks about. I'm not afraid to take that and run with it."

The Panthers have been non-committal on whether they will use the franchise tag to ensure Hardy returns or sign him to a long-term deal. Hardy's not thinking about that this week.

This week is about "having a great time seeing things I've never seen before and getting to hang out with some of the best in the business."

It's also about playing football and introducing his peers to "The Kraken."

"Some people [ask about it]," Hardy said of the mythical sea monster. "Some don't. I'm not the most personable guy. I just kind of stick to myself ... They don't know me out here yet."

But they will.

And he could bring some spice to a game in need of some even if his alter persona doesn't surf or swim.

"I'm going to play to dominate and win the game," Hardy said. "Whatever that takes is what the game is for me."