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In this city, of course, a story rises from ashes

PHOENIX -- I number Super Bowls differently than most because when I see the letters XLII, the only thing they mean to me are the size of sweat shirt I now wear.

As far as I’m concerned, this is Super Bowl 2 since that great courageous warrior, Barbaro, kicked it. The Indianapolis win over Chicago a year ago in Super Bowl 1 is a little hollow knowing the big fella never got the chance to neigh with approval.

Now as you know, I probably owe an apology to everyone.

There’s no question I was off my game Tuesday at Super Bowl media day, forced to work by unsympathetic editors on the one-year anniversary when Barbaro officially went four hoofs up.

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If that wasn’t enough, there was also the announcement Tuesday that the dead horse’s owners have decided to bury the critter’s ashes at the entrance gate to Churchill Downs. Some time in 2009.

My mind a nagging blur after such developments, I wrote a media-day column like every other writer in the country, and I just hate that. Here the NFL is now agreeable to throwing a sex party every Tuesday before the Super Bowl, and not one of us complained about the amount of jiggle on display.

This is the same league that flipped out when Janet Jackson showed her mettle while trying to fend off Justin Timberlake in a Super Bowl halftime performance, and now we’re all stuck with Tom Petty -- if he can stay awake long enough to perform Sunday.

For some hypocritical reason, the NFL is now willing to embrace the jiggle five days before the Super Bowl, giving media credentials to women dressed in teddies and wedding mini-gowns in order to get mainstream play on such non-football outlets as “Entertainment Tonight,” “Access Hollywood” and “BET.”

Had I not been lost in contemplation, of course, wondering what they’ve been doing with that pile of ashes for the last year, and what they’ll be doing with them for the next year, I would have expressed my moral indignation at those tight jeans, even if the wife hadn’t suggested it in a morning phone call.

In protest, I might have even written a football story on media day to really show the NFL I stand alone.

But unfortunately, this dead horse thing continues to confound, and the NFL was allowed to titillate.

As most of you know, I was pretty close to Skippy the Squirrel, who bought it about the same time as the horse. When Skippy failed to make it across I-5, he was just another bump in the road until they scooped up the little fur ball and threw him away.

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We conducted a memorial service a few months later, of course, for the little guy at the Los Alamitos Race Course. We put his picture on everyone’s table and passed out blue wrist bands with Skippy’s final thought: “I know I can make it.”

But then it was time to just get on with it.

As for the dead horse, he still lingers. I checked the Internet to see whether his ashes were available on EBay, but noticed something that was published last May under the title “Pet Care Pointers” in the Chicago Tribune. There was a story about owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson keeping the pile of ashes in a heavy wooden box in their closet.

If I tried something like that, the wife seeing the box marked “Elmer’s Glue, count 144,” she would’ve just heaved it.

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The whole burial thing makes sense, though, what with horse racing being a dying sport and putting a dead one at the entrance of Churchill Downs.

“His accomplishments as a racehorse,” said Churchill President Steve Sexton in published reports, “are certainly rivaled by the courage and resolve he displayed after his injury.”

It’s been more than a year since Barbaro went to that great big pasture in the sky, and yet folks are still carrying on as though he gave his life for his country overseas.

There were too many messages to count this week on Alex Brown Racing, a website catering to FOBs (Friends of Barbaro), every one of them wanting to pay homage to the dead thing.

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“Dear Barbaro, we love you for the wonderful horse you were on and off the racetrack. You are a beauty and as brave as they come . . . so you are returning to Churchill Downs where so many people saw you run the race of your life and run with your heart; it’s a fitting place for you to return, precious Barbaro,” wrote Daphne and Pee.

Or, as Karen from Las Vegas put it, “Dear Sweet Barbaro, you will forever be a part of my soul. Your spirit has touched the depths of my heart. May you run freely in heaven as you look upon us and continue to inspire us with your love. I love you Angel.”

I believe Angel might’ve also been the name of one of the babes trying to interview Tom Brady. She was neighing, too, as she approached Brady, but the difference being she was standing on two good, really good, sensational legs.

NOW DON’T get me wrong, I’m not writing about a dead horse in some kind of veiled effort to avoid talking to live football players here who are under instructions from the NFL’s most controlling coaches to say nothing of interest.

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There are 217 pages of quotes from players and coaches sitting on a table in the next room, so I can avoid talking to live football players without any problem and still report what they say.

But so far, from what I can tell, no one has said anything all that interesting. One of them, Giants receiver Plaxico Burress, did say that he thinks his team is going to win, 23-17, and that seemed to get every one in a lather for a while.

I could understand if he predicted the Patriots would win, but why should anyone get excited about someone thinking his own team might win?

But that’s the Super Bowl “in a nutshell,” as Skippy used to say, everyone carrying a pen and packing a camera starved for someone to say something, and should they come close, killing them for doing it.

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It’s no wonder Barbaro kept his thoughts to himself to the very end.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.


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