BAILEY, N.C. — Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers was born and raised in the Nash County town of Bailey. He is believed to be the first athlete to participate in a Final Four and a Super Bowl.
Peppers' family and his entire hometown excitedly have been gearing up for Sunday's Super Bowl between the Panthers and New England Patriots.
As a florist and president of the Bailey Chamber of Commerce, Sharon Tarpley helped cover the town in blue, white and black. She made more than 100 decorations.
The town even hung a sign out by the exit ramp off Highway 264, so people driving by will know this is Peppers' hometown.
"Oh, everybody is so excited," Tarpley said. "There is so much going on, and everybody is just so happy about it and talking about it and can't wait until Sunday."
Perhaps nobody is more anxious about the game than Peppers' father, George Kurney, a Nash County deputy.
"He's just one game away from grabbing the ring," Kurney said. "I know he's excited, and I'm excited, too."
People in town have treated Kurney like a local celebrity. But he said he is just a proud father.
"To reach the pinnacle of his profession so early in his career is just wonderful for him," Kurney said of Peppers. "Anything that's wonderful for him is great for me."
Peppers' aunt, Betsy Battle, said Peppers has grown up fast.
"When he was a little boy, he'd be around the home playing football," Battle said. "But Sunday, he is actually going to be in a Super Bowl. That's really exciting, and we're really proud of him."
Battle also is thrilled to see the community's support.
"It makes us really proud to know that they care that much for him," she said.
If the excitement here keeps building, they may have to add Peppers' name to the water tower that rises above town.
Several members of Peppers' family are in Houston for the game. The rest will get together for a Super bowl party back home.
For Peppers' part, he said the Final Four can't touch the Super Bowl for excitement and prestige.
"This is the Super Bowl," he said. "This is the biggest sporting event in the world."