Most Bears are camera-shy, but Muhammad embraces scene, relishes 2nd Super Bowl chance.
On the Bears.
MIAMI -- Of the 3,000 media members here to chronicle Super Bowl XLI, Muhsin Muhammad will be the only one wearing shoulder pads Sunday.
Turning 34 in May, Muhammad might be savoring his final Super Bowl as a player. But does anyone really believe he won't return regularly, sitting in a makeshift studio one season after hanging up his spikes?
Muhammad, who co-hosted a cable television sports show this season, was asked Wednesday to assume the role of NFL analyst that fits him as well as jersey No. 87 and evaluate his own 60-catch, 863-yard season. Those seem like modest totals for a supposed No. 1 receiver whose defining reception as a Bear could come Sunday.
"I thought I had a solid year," Muhammad said. "Numbers-wise, I didn't put up a lot of big numbers, but when my team needed me to make plays, I was there. And we're in the Super Bowl, [so] how much more successful can you be?"
On the field and off, Muhammad keeps redefining that answer.
Hours after Carolina cut its all-time leading receiver for salary-cap reasons in 2005, the Bears signed him to a six-year, $30 million contract with a $12 million bonus. He immediately legitimized the Bears' passing game. But his 124 catches in two seasons are not commensurate with the money he's paid, and the burden of living up to the size of the contract affects him.
"Oh, yeah, I feel the pressure," Muhammad said. "[But] does it get to me? I don't think so. I like the pressure. It's third-and-long, who's going to make the play? Pressure does one of two things: It'll break you or mold you into a diamond."
Truth is, at the time, the Bears had to spend whatever necessary to bring in a receiver with Muhammad's credibility to help Rex Grossman develop into a more confident passer. It turned out that Muhammad's presence also allowed Bernard Berrian to exploit one-on-one mismatches during a breakout season in 2006. So the Bears really upgraded three positions in their passing game for the price of one—millions well spent.
"We felt we needed a tough guy and we had a lot of young kids and he could be a model in the locker room," general manager Jerry Angelo said. "It's the intangibles. If it's third down, the clutch play the team needs, there's been no better guy to throw to than [Muhammad]."
When Muhammad surprisingly signed with the Bears at the 2005 NFL combine, the size of Chicago's market was considered a bigger factor than the depth of hidden talent in the Bears' passing game. Muhammad never has denied the role that marketing opportunities played in luring him to Chicago, but he stressed again Wednesday that "the ultimate decision was: Can I go here and have a chance to win?"
Twenty-six victories and two talk shows later, the answer for Muhammad is an emphatic yes.
"I never came to Chicago thinking I want to own the city," Muhammad said.
He can think about signing the lease if the Bears win and Muhammad plays as well Sunday as he did for the Panthers against the New England Patriots in the 2004 Super Bowl—four catches for 140 yards, including a Super Bowl record 85-yard touchdown catch.
If you think Muhammad has been visible around Chicago lately, just watch if he makes a key catch to win this Super Bowl. They will have to put "Moose Crossing" road signs all over the Loop.
More than any of his teammates, Muhammad could have been an '85 Bear. He co-hosts a weekly television show on Comcast SportsNet this year and had a regular radio gig last season. Given Muhammad's experience as the CEO of a hip-hop recording company, he could have produced a modern-day "Super Bowl Shuffle" if the team had chosen to shoot one.
"I have fun with some of the things I do," Muhammad said.
On a team that is mostly camera-shy, Muhammad has been ready for his close-up since the day he came to Chicago. So Muhammad could have just been acting when he talked about the pride he had in receiving protégè Berrian, whose season eclipsed Muhammad's, and the way his priorities have changed at this stage of his career.
But his teammates attest to those sentiments. On Wednesday, Berrian gave Muhammad credit for showing him how to work hard on every play, every practice. And Mark Bradley recounted how Muhammad constantly preached about staying positive no matter how few balls might get thrown your way. Rashied Davis even used the word "mentor."
To hear the Bears' young receivers, Muhammad can be as solid behind the scenes as he is smooth in front of the cameras.
"Sometimes people get envious when someone else gets a little shine, but 'Moose' is the opposite of that," Berrian said.
He is an NFL wide receiver, so the job description requires Muhammad maintain enough narcissistic qualities to have his own end-zone dance that involves moving the ball between his legs—"a patented thing," he said.
But how many prima donna receivers look forward to making a bigger impact in a Super Bowl with blocking, as Muhammad does? On many running plays Muhammad will be the guy on the perimeter assigned to block safety Bob Sanders, the player considered the key to the Colts stopping the run.
"He plays a different level than a lot of people on the field, [so] it is a challenge for me," Muhammad said.
Muhammad also will find incentive in looking across the sideline and seeing Colts receiver Marvin Harrison, chosen 24 spots ahead of Muhammad in the 1996 NFL draft. Harrison is headed for the Hall of Fame one day with 1,022 career receptions so far. Muhammad, no slouch himself with 702, sounded only slightly envious pointing out how most of Harrison's passes have come from Peyton Manning.
The comments were a nod to Manning, not a slight to Grossman.
"Do you envy that situation? Oh yeah," Muhammad said. "Who doesn't want to play with Peyton Manning? I love Rex too. I love the other guys I played with in my career. But [Manning has] thrown more TD passes than anyone at this stage of his career, so it's a great situation for [Harrison]."
Not that Muhammad would trade situations with any other NFL receiver this week.