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Barnett is Packers man in the middle

Playing at frenetic pace, ex-Beaver is the defensive anchor
by: JONATHAN DANIEL, Former Oregon State linebacker Nick Barnett has been called the defensive MVP 
of the Green Bay Packers, who face the New York Giants this weekend for the NFC championship.

Sunday's projected high temperature at Green Bay's Lambeau Field - site of the NFC championship game between the Packers and New York Giants - is a crisp 6 degrees, with possible snow flurries.

Perfect, figures Green Bay middle linebacker Nick Barnett.

'That's in our favor, especially with the homefield advantage,' says the former Oregon State standout. 'All year our fans have been great, and for this game, they'll be even more loud and excited.

'I can't wait. It's going to be cold, but it's going to be hot in that stadium.'

Barnett has been a fixture with the Green Bay defense since coming to the club as a first-round draft pick - Oregon State's first since Terry Baker in 1963 - in 2003.

He finished fifth in the NFL in tackles with 135 this season, was named NFL defensive player of the week after a win over San Diego in September and has been called the Packers' defensive MVP by local media.

'Nick is probably the best linebacker in the NFL this year,' Packer linebacker Brady Poppinga tells the media. 'He's a guy you rally around, and the energy he brings on the field gets contagious.'

But for the fifth straight season, Barnett is an alternate for the Pro Bowl. Seattle's Lofa Tatupu and San Francisco rookie Patrick Willis - who led the NFL in tackles with 142 - were selected for the NFC squad.

'I would love to make the Pro Bowl,' says Barnett, 26. 'Do I feel like I should be there? Yeah. But (quarterback) Brett Favre told me after practice the other day, 'Don't worry about that. You have a lot of years left. I expect you to be there sometime soon.'

'Maybe I'll get there some day. But the more important bowl game is Feb. 3 in Phoenix.'

That's Super Bowl XLII. The Packers are one victory away.

Green Bay is a seven-point favorite over the Giants, 'but we know it's going to be a battle,' Barnett says. 'It's going to be won in those trenches. They have a big back (Brandon Jacobs) and a strong offensive line. They'll try to attack us with their run game. They have some good receivers, too. They definitely have a lot of weapons. We look forward to the challenge.'

This is the first time the Packers have advanced as far as the NFC championship game since 1997.

'I'm proud of the way I've played, but I've had some pretty good individual seasons before,' he says. 'Being part of a playoff team means so much more. You dream about getting this far, but once you get here it's like, 'Is this real?' It's a tremendous feeling.'

The 6-2 Barnett always plays right to the whistle - opponents say sometimes after that - and his teammates feed off of it.

'Nick has swagger and charisma pouring out of everywhere,' Green Bay linebacker coach Winston Moss says. 'He's extremely confident, borderline edgy - and quite frankly, you need that on a team to have success.

'He goes out there expecting to achieve certain things, and he's not afraid to tell you about that. He weighs 235, plays like he's 250 and runs like he's 200.'

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