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How Panthers cornerback Josh Norman gets to his 'dark place'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Josh Norman doesn't have an Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader moment when he goes to what he calls his dark place on game days.

Evil forces aren't pulling the Carolina Panthers cornerback into a direction that makes him forget who he is, although inner aggression, unrestrained passion and sometimes anger take over Norman in a Vader-like way.

Norman doesn't have an outer body experience when he gets to this dark place.

"Yeah, but I'm not the same person that I am now," Norman said. "I'm totally different. A night and day comparison from what I am on and off the field."

Norman went to that dark place a week ago in a 33-14 victory at Dallas. He went there after a few of his younger defensive backs told him Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant called him out during pre-game warmups.

It wasn't the first time Norman has mentioned going to a dark place for a game. He talks about that constantly when preparing for Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones, who he says "completes me."

Norman could go there again on Sunday when Carolina takes its 11-0 record into the New Orleans Superdome.

So how does Norman get to this place that enables him to make seemingly super-human plays such as the interception in the end zone that saved Carolina's 27-22 victory over New Orleans in Week 3?

It begins the night before the game in the team hotel when Norman, secluded in his room, will watch a movie. What movie he picks depends on how dark of a place he wants to reach.

The 2006 fantasy war film "300" takes him to his darkest place, to that alter persona.

"I am Leonidas," said Norman, referring to the main character in the movie.

Norman's also a big fan of Russell Crowe in "Gladiator."

The game day preparation includes listening to some sort of "theme music" and alone time while stretching. It includes Norman putting in his red contact lenses.

"You see a focus," safety Tre Boston said. "We don't talk to him much. We might egg him on a little bit. He's just a quiet guy that goes into a zone. That's his dark place."

Norman said he's always gone to a dark place on game days because it helps him achieve the focus that has helped him emerge this season as one of the league's top cornerbacks.

"Yeah, but now it's more enhanced to the point I flip it on like a light switch," Norman said of his dark place.

Norman flipped the switch against Bryant, holding the Pro Bowl receiver to one catch for six yards when he was covering him. He went there because he felt Bryant disrespected him.

Disrespect is the fastest way to flip Norman's switch.

"When you talk me up, get me going, I get to another place," Norman said. "I feel disrespected, like that must mean I suck, which I don't."

Norman's teammates don't actually see this transformation to the dark place. But they see the focus.

"It's all a mental thing," backup cornerback Teddy Williams said. "We all go to some kind of place, especially on defense. ... It's like an alter ego. You just go to another place.

Williams said in a way it is like an outer body experience. Coach Ron Rivera calls it "our inner APE – Attitude, Preparation and Effort."

"You go to somewhere else," Williams said. "You get out there on that field and focus on what you've got to do."

Norman refers to himself as the "Dark Knight" when he goes to this place because he's a huge "Batman" fan. He has a small statue of the Caped Crusader on a shelf in his locker at Bank of America Stadium.

Safety Roman Harper sometimes makes fun of Norman's super hero references, but he doesn't want him to change or lose that dark place on game days.

"Sometimes he's a little bit over the edge, but I'll never let him fall off," Harper said. "We love Josh being himself and competing. He's a big competitor. He doesn't want anybody to catch a pass on him. He wants to make every tackle, every play. And because of that it's allowed him to be who he is.

"Whatever he calls it, whatever side he's on, Batman, dark side ... just do whatever he needs to do."