- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ron Rivera was describing breakdowns that allowed Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White to get wide open for a 39-yard touchdown on Sunday when the Carolina Panthers coach turned the topic to what could have happened.
"The unfortunate thing is if we could have eliminated that route, Greg Hardy could have gotten his fifth sack," Rivera said this week of his Pro Bowl defensive end, who had a team-record four sacks in the regular-season finale. "He was coming off the end like the train that he is, or the Kraken that he is, and he had a chance to make a play."
Hardy is "The Kraken."
Or "The Kraken" is Hardy.
Until that moment, I'd never heard Rivera refer to the fourth-year player out of Ole Miss as the mythical sea monster that Hardy adopted as his nickname.
Some might argue it became official when Hardy introduced himself as "Kraken" from Hogwarts during a prime-time game against New Orleans on Dec. 8.
But it's one thing to introduce yourself. It's another to have those in authority refer to you by that name.
Or maybe when you get seven sacks over the final two games of the regular season and make the Pro Bowl for the first time, people start believing you can do -- or be -- anything you want to be.
So the next logical question for Rivera was, What did you think the first time you met "The Kraken"?
"That was my first year here," he said, pausing to laugh.
"Yeah," Rivera said, pausing again. "He's ... um, he's a very unique individual. He really he. He's got so much ability, so much talent, and he really just enjoys playing the game."
Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott had a similar pause when asked the same question.
"I just found out a couple of weeks ago he puts it on his name tag [for pregame introductions]," McDermott said of the nickname.
So what's the difference between Hardy and Kraken?
"Your guess is as good as mine," McDermott said. "Whoever showed up [Sunday]."
He was referring to the player whose four sacks against Atlanta earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this season, the player who in his postgame interview said he dominated his breakfast.
"Which I thought was awesome," McDermott said.
For those who missed it, a reporter asked Hardy how he was able to dominate Atlanta.
"Man, I dominated breakfast when I woke up, so I don't know what you're talking about," Hardy said. "I dominate everything I do. Silly question. Next question."
The next question was what Hardy had for breakfast.
"Cereal," Hardy said. "I killed it. No spoon."
You shouldn't be surprised. This is the same person who predicted he would have 50 sacks this year.
"Still have some games left, buddy," Hardy said when reminded he came up 35 short.
Told the NFL only counts regular-season statistics, Hardy responded, "Says who? I make the rules. Who's going to stop me?"
The simple answer is nobody. Not even his teammates, including those who didn't take him seriously the first time he put on black contact lenses and war paint for a game.
"Until he started backing up the way he's playing, you kind of laugh," defensive tackle Dwan Edwards said. "But man, when you see the way he plays ... I'm not going to stand in his way.
"Whatever he's doing is working. We're going to let Greg be Greg, let him be The Kraken."
That's because Hardy finished the regular season with 15 sacks, tying Kevin Greene's single-season team record set in 1998.
The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Hardy has a stare that could intimidate anybody. Just ask the reporter who mentioned the black "NFC South Division Champs" cap Hardy had pulled tightly on his head on Sunday.
"You're never taking this off my head, good luck with that one," Hardy said.
Hardy doesn't just intimidate opponents. He's practicing with such intensity lately that Rivera said "it's almost scary" for Carolina players who have to face him.
"There's something that has kind of clicked in him right now," Rivera said.
As Hardy would say, the Kraken has been unleashed.
But behind the crazy comments and black contacts there's a level of intelligence that gets overlooked.
"It's weird, because people that don't know Greg maybe think he's a little short," safety Mike Mitchell said. "But Greg is one of the smartest guys on this team. Don't let him fool you. A lot of that [Kraken stuff] is created so that he is scary. It works perfectly."
"He might fool some people, but I've had some real deep talks with Greg," he said. "He's a lot smarter than people give him credit for. There's all sorts of layers with Greg Hardy. You never know what you're going to get."
Hardy knows what he's going to get. A huge contract, whether the Panthers give him the franchise tag that would guarantee him in excess of $11.1 million next season or work out a long-term deal that will pay him more.
He might make enough to buy Hogwarts.
When pushed on the madness behind his nickname, he admitted it's more of a "mode than a persona."
"[As] I see it, something tells me I've got to flip the switch and release all the bad stuff that is outside, the bills, the accidents, the tragedies and the things that happen every day to everybody else," said Hardy, who missed most of the 2011 preseason because he was in a motorcycle accident. "I've got to let it go and get locked into details."
That's when he becomes "The Kraken" -- who also emerges when an opposing player ticks Hardy off, as one of the Falcons did on Sunday.
"I've seen situations where guys want to talk to trash to him," Edwards said. "I don't think that's what they want, to get him mad or upset and on a mission. When he goes [into Kraken mode], he turns it on and it's full go."
There also are marketing reasons behind the alias.
"To sell T-shirts, make it a person," Hardy said. "That's all I'm saying."
Having your head coach refer to you by the name doesn't hurt. Rivera even stopped by Hardy's locker on Wednesday to say he dominated his cereal without a spoon that morning.
"Yeah, it's more than a sign," Hardy said of having his alter-ego acknowledged by the head coach. "It's a warning [to the league]."
Beware of "The Kraken."