SEATTLE As Max Unger sits in front of his locker after the Seattle Seahawks' playoff win over San Francisco, he looks more like a regular on the HBO show Game of Thrones than a starting NFL center.
The 6-5, 305-pounder has his shirt off, exposing enormous arms, a huge chest and a big gut. As he talks with reporters, he casually twirls his chest hair between his fingers.
Ungers hands look as if he had put them down a garbage disposal. Each knuckle is bleeding heavily.
I dont wear gloves, so (stuff) happens, he says.
Ungers head is shaved. He has a thick Boston Red Sox/Duck Dynasty beard that he has been growing for months.
I always do the playoff beard, he says, but we were winning so many games (during the regular season) that I just didnt trim it.
There is another good reason to associate Unger with fictional knights of ancient times. He and the Seahawks have just beaten the 49ers 23-17, punching their ticket to Sunday's Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos.
That was the most physical game that I could even think of, Unger says, of the NFC title match-up/rivalry game. The 49ers are a very, very good team, and they played a hell of a game.
Unger, a native of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, is in his fifth NFL season. He honed his skills during four years with the Oregon Ducks.
I think about Oregon all the time, Unger says. Its the best place in America to play college football. Thats a fact. The brand of football down there, it totally prepares guys to play in the NFL. They do a great job of getting players ready to be professionals. They have one of the best staffs and support staff in the country.
During Ungers time at Oregon (2005-2008), the Ducks were on the rise to national prominence. One of the biggest things in Oregons way was USC, then led by current Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
The Trojans won the Pac-10 all four years that Unger was at Oregon, with the Ducks coming in second twice (2005, 2008), fourth in 2007 and sixth in 2006.
Coach Carroll made it very difficult for us to do our thing, Unger says.
So, did Unger like Carroll?
Come on, man, Unger says, laughing. We only beat USC one time, and it was always shaking our fist at the USC Trojans when they beat us, so, no, not really.
But since Carroll came to Seattle in 2010, Unger has grown to love the coach.
Hes awesome, Unger says.
Unger says Seattles road to the Super Bowl began last season, when the Seahawks made the playoffs and got to the divisional round before losing to the Atlanta Falcons.
Last year, we were a little under the radar and made the playoffs after a real strong push in the second half of the season, he says. We carried that momentum into this season.
Ive never played on a team with this high level of expectation. Coach Carroll did an awesome job of preparing us for the expectations and being able to manage them and execute in the games on the biggest scale.
The Seahawks' offensive line has been up and down this season. Running back Marshawn Lynch has run for 1,257 yards, but quarterback Russell Wilson has been sacked 33 times behind a banged-up line.
We watch the film and you kind of feel like you get punched in the chest every time you go out, Unger says. Theres never a clean game, and theres never really a pretty game. One of these days, hopefully, well be able to stay healthy, put five guys out there and play a complete game were all happy about.
Unger and the Seahawks would like nothing better than to have a clean, pretty game against the Broncos.
Seattle and Denver played each other in the preseason, and the Seahawks won 40-10, but Unger knows it will be a very different game Sunday at East Rutherford, N.J.
We had them in the preseason, but both teams have changed a lot, he says. When the final whistle sounds, Unger plans chop off his beard, win or lose.
Its coming off as soon as the Super Bowl is over. Maybe even on the field, he says. Its ready to go. Im tired of this thing."
(Max Unger quotes from the Super Bowl media sessions)
On the length of his beard: "We're trying to go less than ZZ Top. Just by a little bit, though. I don't want to upstage them."
On the poise of Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson: "He's as advertised. The guy that you talk to is pretty much the guy that we get in the huddle."
On Wilson's abilities as a QB: "Playing quarterback is extremely demanding. You have to know everything from protections to routes to defensive recognitions, and intelligence is a huge part of that. Russell's a pretty incredible player. He's getting it done, and he's maturing. He's grown a lot since his rookie year, and he's got us to this point."
On who changes the calls he or Wilson at the line of scrimmage: "It's probably about 50-50. He does a lot. I do most of the offensive line, and then he overrides a lot of calls, too, so we kind of try tag-teaming."
On blocking for running back Marshawn Lynch: "Marshawn, he's a man. It's pretty cool to be able to block for a back that creates yards like that. When he does that, and he's throwing piles, and he's carrying people before he goes down, it just makes you want to do your job that much better."
On the send-off in Seattle, with fans coming out to greet the team bus on its way to the airport: "It was one of the coolest sports moments that I've been a part of probably about 20,000 people lining the road going to the airport. We have extremely passionate fans, the best ones in the NFL, and it's just pretty cool to be a part of."