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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick throws a pass during practice for the Super Bowl in New Orleans. [Photo/Agencies]
Three years ago, running back Reggie Bush stepped onto a field in Miami with his New Orleans Saints teammates and beat the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
Three days ago, he stepped off a plane in China with his fiancee and wondered briefly if the airport had gone up in flames.
Smog, you see.
The gap that separates the two teams who play for a championship and the 30 teams that don't stretches even farther than the 10,000 or so miles between New Orleans - home of Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday - and Beijing, where Bush is conducting a publicity tour for NFL China.
"It's humbling, and that's what I love about this game - you can be humbled the very next year after winning the Super Bowl," Bush said on Friday at Beijing's Kerry Hotel, over lunch with fiancee Lilit Avagyan.
"Obviously it's tough, because when you play on a team that's won a Super Bowl, you kinda feel like you know what it takes to get there from a player's standpoint. So it is a little tough sitting back watching, but I always try to use it as motivation for next year, to get better somehow, some way and find a way to help my team get better wherever I'm at."
So how does Bush occupy himself during the big game when he's not actually playing in it?
Last year, he went on a similar junket in Mexico City. This year, he opted for Beijing over traveling back to New Orleans, where he lived for five years.
Too many tourists right now.
"I'm sure it's just going to be a big cluster down there, so I'll wait until it calms down and it's back to normal down there and go down and hang out for a little bit," he said. "I lived there for five years, I still have a lot of friends there. I used to own a condo there but I don't have that anymore - so I just try to go back once a year and visit friends. The food is amazing down there and (Avagyan) has never been before, so we're going to go back in the summertime and eat some food."
It was Avagyan, who is pregnant, that Bush worried about when he stepped off the plane and into the smog on Thursday.
"The funny thing is you can smell it right off the plane," he said. "As soon as you step off the plane you can smell it - I said to her, 'it smells like there's a fire.'"
Still, Bush is holding it together nicely for an expectant father who technically doesn't have a job. His one-year contract with the Miami Dolphins expired at the end of the season, and he's still unsure where he'll land when free agency begins next month.
A guy with 986 yards rushing and 292 receiving last season will certainly get some offers, but Bush said what he wants most at this point in his career is to find a team he can call home.
Who knows, maybe that home will be with a team that lands him back in the Super Bowl. For the record, Bush thinks the Baltimore Ravens will beat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday (that's Monday, Beijing time).
"I think it's going to come down to Joe Flacco - if he plays well they're going to win," Bush said. "He's one of the elite quarterbacks now in this league and if he wins he'll definitely be at the top, with the cream of the crop, with Drew Brees and Tom Brady and Peyton Manning."
Of course, win or lose, Flacco might find himself 10,000 miles from home this time next year, wondering whether the airport's on fire.
Football is humbling indeed.
Dusty Lane is a sports copy editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.