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Panthers' Luke Kuechly doesn't look for the spotlight, but it finds him

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Luke Kuechly walked onto the staged version of the Golden Gate Bridge on Monday, hands in his pocket and eyes big as he took in the craziness that is called Super Bowl Media Night.

He looked out of place, like he'd just stepped onto another planet.

The Carolina Panthers middle linebacker looked even more out of place when cornerback Josh Norman moved beside him in dark sunglasses with a black and yellow towel draped over his shoulders.

It sparked images of Sylvester Stallone in the first "Rocky" movie when Apollo Creed made his grand entrance dressed first as George Washington and then Uncle Sam.

"Luke don't like all this," Norman said. "I'm being straight up. It's not him. It's not what he does, man. He's a [lunch] pail, blue-collar worker. He's got his lunch box, go to work and go home."

Kuechly isn't about glitz and loud music. He doesn't look for the spotlight.

"Not everybody has to have the want to be in the light," backup quarterback Derek Anderson said about Kuechly. "And you can appreciate that. Other guys are fighting their balls off to get in that light, and he's, 'Hey, I just play football and make tackles.'"

Kuechly's stage is the football field. His idea of fun is a late-night date with film of the opposing team.

The past two weeks have been more intense than normal for Kuechly because the next opponent is Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Kuechly not only watches for tendencies, he turns up the sound so he can make sense of Manning's countless pre-snap calls.

If there's a chess match in Super Bowl 50 it will be between Kuechly and Manning.

"There is definitely some back-and-forth," said Kuechly, the ninth pick of the 2012 draft out of Boston College. "He is probably one of the best guys at the line of scrimmage."

And Kuechly, who returned interceptions for touchdowns in Carolina's playoff wins against Seattle and Arizona, is one of the best across the line of scrimmages from quarterbacks.

Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison didn't hesitate when asked for the key to Carolina's defense.

"Obviously, 59," he said of Kuechly. "He kind of gets them all going in the right direction. He's the leader of the bunch."

Arguably no player on the Panthers is more appreciated than Kuechly.

Not even quarterback Cam Newton.

"Luke is my favorite football player," running back Jonathan Stewart said. "Ever since he's came into the league he's been my favorite football player."

Tight end Greg Olsen said "everybody knows it starts on defense," and for Carolina that means Kuechly.

"He's a special player," Olsen said. "He's been as good as there is on the defensive side of the ball since he's come in the league. He's a big reason why we're here.”

Newton calls Kuechly a "vital part of this team." He also calls him "Captain America." He says Kuechly makes him better.

"I haven't been around a lot of people that I can say their preparation, their play, their skill-set brings the best out of me," Newton said.

Kuechly, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, leaves the same impression on opposing players. One was Broncos outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware at the Pro Bowl last year.

"We went over some of the plays he was showing me because I was a linebacker and playing in the 4-3, which I never play," Ware said. "He was showing me what I need to do in Cover-2.

"He is a great leader. That's why their defense is doing so well, because he is that center, that core that keeps them on track.”

Kuechly responded immediately when asked about the best Boston College football player of all time.

"It's got to be Doug Flutie," he said. "He's the only guy who has won a Heisman at Boston College, and he's Doug Flutie. That's what it comes down to.

"When you get to BC, you walk outside of Alumni Stadium and there is a statue of Flutie in his No. 22 jersey throwing that ball against Miami. When you talk about BC football, you talk about Doug Flutie."

Kuechly has a chance to change that.

Flutie never won a Super Bowl. If Kuechly can add that to an already impressive résumé, he has a chance to go down not only as the greatest player from BC, but one of the best linebackers of all time.

Hall of Fame middle linebacker Mike Singletary says a Super Bowl ring would raise Kuechly's stature to another level, but he says Kuechly doesn't need a title to be recognized in a group with him, Brian Urlacher, Ray Lewis and other legendary middle linebackers.

"He is a great player, Super Bowl or no Super Bowl," Singletary said. "The Super Bowl is only going to make it better."

But a Super Bowl won't change Kuechly. He won't all of a sudden go from being "Captain America" to "SuperCam."

Kuechly's idea of a touchdown celebration is jogging to the bench to get ready for the next series. His idea of a postgame outfit doesn't include anything sparkly or tailored.

That probably never will change.

"Cam, he walks into a room and you know that," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "Luke kind of has this ability to sneak in."

That's what made Kuechly look out of place Monday.

There was no sneaking in.