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Naturally, Sanchez is trying to build good karma and enjoy the spotlight

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez look for

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez look for a receiver during practice. (January 20, 2010) Credit: AP

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Mark Sanchez is pulling out all the stops, doing everything he can to keep the good karma going.

Sure, the rookie quarterback still is sporting that rugged- looking playoff beard, and it's not exactly photogenic. But he changed things up a little bit Friday, showing up for the final news conference before Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Colts sporting a different T-shirt.

Sanchez typically wears Jets garb when he addresses the media, but Friday's choice of attire had a picture of a baseball bat with a lightning bolt on the label and "Wonderboy" written on the barrel.

"You know, Roy Hobbs," Sanchez said, referring to the hero played by Robert Redford in the movie "The Natural.'' "I'm wearing everything that could bring a little something good."

He's also hoping that lightning strikes again for the Jets in Indianapolis. That 29-15 victory on Dec. 27 - which caused a firestorm because the Colts pulled their starters, including Peyton Manning, in the third quarter - is what jump-started the Jets on their four-game winning streak. Now, nearly a month later, they'll meet the Colts again.

Sanchez can become the first rookie quarterback since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to guide his team to a win in a conference title game. He said he's more excited than nervous and feels the way he did in the last hours leading up to their Sept. 13 opener against the Texans.

"It does feel similar as it did when we were going to Houston," he said. "You don't know exactly what to expect. You have an idea, you've heard from people, but all you know is it is going to be big. You just want to be ready."

This time last year, Sanchez was barely a week removed from declaring for the NFL draft. He felt the wrath of USC coach Pete Carroll, who was incensed that Sanchez left early and kept telling him he wasn't ready for the NFL's bright lights. He was just about to start working out in Orange County and prepping for the NFL combine.

He also was thinking about going to Tampa for Super Bowl media stuff nearly a year ago, "and now we might go to play, which would be nice."

But even while knowing that one more win puts the Jets in the Super Bowl, the rookie isn't trying to get caught up in the hoopla. He's trying to treat this as just another game, even though it really is not, and heed the simple message delivered by his coach.

"Go have fun, let's go, play the position," Rex Ryan said before veering off into one of his stand-up comedy routines. "Just because every kid in the world dreams to be in this spot, don't let it affect you."

Said Sanchez, "It's just been important for me to understand that you don't always get to come back here, that it really is a privilege to be here. Once you get here, all the excitement of it and distractions, really you just focus on playing."

Sanchez really had to focus against San Diego last Sunday in a hostile environment. He was almost taken aback by the intensity of the Qualcomm Stadium crowd noise; guard Alan Faneca said it was as loud as he's ever heard it in San Diego.

Colts fans might nearly blow the retractable roof off Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday attempting to rattle Sanchez. But he hasn't been thrown off his game much during the Jets' improbable ride, one that he can't get enough of.

"It's the coolest thing in the world, just knowing that everybody in that stadium, everybody on your team, on their team, is watching and waiting for you to say go, waiting for you to hike the ball," he said. "It's going to be great.''

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