TAMPA - Confident that the NFC Championship Game horse hadn't quite been beaten to death yet, your Eagles beat reporter strode through the throng into Super Bowl media day on a mission. The Arizona Cardinals were up first.

Kurt Warner? Who needs him - bagged groceries, played in Europe, won the Super Bowl, took some hits, was washed up, somehow got unwashed up, and is back on top. Blah, blah, blah.

Larry Fitzgerald and his Minneapolis sports media figure dad? Not for us.

Ken Whisenhunt? Looks a little like a sandy-haired Bill Cowher, doesn't spit as much when he talks. Not compelling.

Suddenly, in a small cluster, answering a question about his favorite Samuel L. Jackson movie ("Unbreakable"), there he stood: Cardinals corner and former Eagle Rod Hood. The man who fell across Kevin Curtis' legs on that fourth-down play that basically ended the Eagles' quest to be here. Curtis, stumbling, saw Donovan McNabb's first-down pass bounce off his hands.

Now we would get the truth.

OK, Roderick. After the game, you called it "incidental contact." Then we saw the reverse-angle replay, about 147 times, and it looked about as incidental as Ryan Clark knocking out Willis McGahee in the AFC title game.

"You know how Philly's going to see it," Hood said, when informed that opinion in Philadelphia ran largely contrary to his assessment. "They didn't see that pushoff when he came out of his break, though. If he hadn't pushed me off, and I hadn't stepped on his foot, I probably would have had a good chance of picking it."

Hood said he has spoken to former teammates Sheldon Brown, Lito Sheppard and Correll Buckhalter in recent days.

"They just told me, 'Man, go out there and win this time,' " said Hood, who was the nickel corner when the Eagles lost Super Bowl XXXIX to the Patriots. "Very supportive."

Hood said this experience is difference because he is a veteran starter, instead of an undrafted second-year sub.

"I understand the magnitude of it," having been to the Super Bowl before, Hood said. "For the most part, I can just go out and enjoy myself. Being in your second year, you're kind of like, almost too nervous. But I think this year is me going out there and enjoying myself."

Hood is the most prominent of a sizable Cardinals contingent of former Eagles, which includes linebacker Pago Togafau, safety Matt Ware, special teams ace Sean Morey and tight end Steve Spach, now sidelined after tearing his ACL in the second playoff game. Cards personnel executive Jason Licht worked for the Eagles until just after last April's draft.

Hood said being a touchdown underdog in Tampa doesn't bother him. The Eagles also were substantive underdogs, beating the spread in their three-point loss.

"I've been an underdog my whole life," said Hood, who walked on at Auburn and made the Eagles as an undrafted rookie in 2003, on a roster that had Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Sheppard and Brown at corner. "Somebody that didn't know me might have bet 100-to-1 I wouldn't be in the NFL 6 years and get to two Super Bowls. It's just a blessing, man."

Hood's departure from Philadelphia was messy. He played out his contract in 2006 while fighting injuries, but there was an undercurrent in the locker-room whispering that his decision not to re-up with the Eagles had a lot to do with his diminished playing time at nickel. The coaching staff leaned toward Joselio Hanson. Hood saw Sheppard fight through a similar dynamic this season (though Sheppard is under contract through 2012), being replaced as a starter by Asante Samuel, then being phased out of the nickel role, again in favor of Hanson. Sheppard has been seeking a trade and a new contract for the past year.

"He's a two-time Pro Bowler, not even playing, even on special teams" by the NFC title game, Hood said of Sheppard. "How many teams would like to have a cornerback like him? It's tough, but you never know what's in the mind of those coaches and that organization."

The Eagles have denied that contracts factor into playing time, but the perception clearly is out there.

"It makes it less attractive to go there," Hood said. "If you think if you have a contract issue, you're worth more money [than you're making] you might not play. You never know what really is [behind playing time decisions], but I think that's the perception most people have of it.

"I have no problem with Mr. [Jeffrey] Lurie. That's a great organization. You've got to respect the success they've had there. I enjoyed my career there."

Clark: Liked Hit,

Not Result

Steelers safety Ryan Clark said yesterday that he would not take back the hit he put on Ravens running back Willis McGahee in the AFC Championship Game, but he would take back the result - McGahee leaving the field strapped to a stretcher, then spending the night in a Pittsburgh hospital.

"You never want to hurt another player," Clark said yesterday. Clark said as McGahee lay motionless, Clark was "just imagining the fear his family, his friends, loved ones, teammates had, watching him in that position. I would love for us to have that hit, have that play, he get up and walk off, I get up and walk off."

Clark said he has not spoken with McGahee.

Party planning

Kurt Warner was asked one more time yesterday about advice to younger teammates experiencing the Super Bowl for the first time. The Cardinals' 37-year-old quarterback said his advice was to relax and "embrace it," but to not relax too much. He said he'd made the point that as tempting as all the party glitter might seem, "that ring on your finger is open access to parties the rest of your life." *

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.