NEW ORLEANS -- It is Super Bowl Week and Chris Culliver wanted to be noticed. He wanted people to hear his message, feel his presence and know who he is.
Now that they do, he is regretful and remorseful.
There is little doubt Culliver's brief, ill-fated interview with comedian Artie Lange on media day was a result of the 49ers' second-year nickel cornerback seeing a spotlight and hurling himself in front of it.
The beam burned Culliver, because in expressing anti-gay sentiments he failed to recognize its power. He figured Lange was a prankster, which he is, and thought he'd go along with the prank.
That's why Culliver was the main attraction at the team's final news conference before Super Bowl XLVII. The young man who so craved attention on Wednesday that he interjected himself into exchanges between reporters and teammates walked into a ballroom at the Marriott on Thursday and got a face full of straining, heaving humanity holding cameras and microphones and notebooks.
So large was the contingent seeking a moment with Culliver that fellow cornerback Tarell Brown, slated to share the table, mercifully was whisked away.
For the next 45 minutes, Culliver sat surrounded by a swarm of interrogators, responding to ceaseless waves of questions, many of which were repeated.
"I don't have (any) differences with other sexualities," he said flatly. "That's not what I feel in my heart. I treat everyone equal, in any type of way. So it's not how I feel. I just wanted to face the situation and just let everyone know how I feel in my heart, just to tell them I'm not that type of guy.
"I'm sorry that I made that comment, that I hurt anyone or made any comment that might affect them, the organization of the NFL or anything like that."
Culliver brought this on with his insensitive comments during an interview conducted by Lange. Culliver said a gay teammate would not be accepted in the San Francisco locker room and that any player who is gay should remain discreet for a good 10 years after retirement.
Listening to Culliver on Thursday, it seemed he was expertly coached in advance or that his initial comments were more the product of thoughtlessness than malice. That he was yakking as boys often do in the comfort of locker rooms and boardrooms.
He likely saw this as time for swaggering jock talk, an opportunity for this 24-year-old NFL player to flaunt his manhood card.
Culliver's comments were juvenile and intolerant, casting him as the tone-deaf villain and the PR-conscious 49ers as his clueless enablers. And he couldn't save himself -- or his beliefs -- because he lacks the intellectual dexterity to navigate such a sensitive topic.
"I guess just not thinking," was the way Culliver described his comments. "Or something that I thought, but definitely not something I feel in my heart."
Lange's first question led an unsuspecting Culliver down a dangerous path, each step becoming more treacherous than the previous. Question No. 1 was a tasteless attempt to obtain specific information about the cornerback's sex exploits this week. When Culliver didn't budge, Lange followed up by asking about gay football players.
In such an instance, the savvy athlete either seizes the moment to express an eloquent opinion or backpedals like a good cornerback. Culliver is neither articulate enough to convey the former nor crafty enough to perform the latter.
But he was on stage, in a sense, so he hung onto Lange and went along for a ride.
The price Culliver was forced to pay is massive. The 49ers, hit with shrapnel from this bombshell, fired off a statement of repudiation Wednesday evening. Culliver met with general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh for an hour or so.
"That's not what I feel in my heart and (Harbaugh) understands that, and I told him that," Culliver said.
"It's going to impact him going forward," Harbaugh said. "It's something that he will learn about himself ... it will affect him. Hope and pray that it affects him in a positive way going forward."
After a sleepless Wednesday night, Culliver on Thursday was contrite and soft-spoken, like a schoolboy making his first visit to the principal's office. With 49ers media relations boss Bob Lange perched on his shoulder, Culliver said his previous comments did not reflect his true feelings and that they "definitely are not (anything) I feel in my heart."
Culliver said he also was counseled by veteran safety Donte Whitner, one of the wiser and more reasoned members of the team.
"I'm not trying to approach many guys or talk to many guys because I don't want that to be a distraction on (to) the team or for an incident like this to cause us to not win the Super Bowl," Culliver said. "That's what these guys are here for. That's what I'm here for. That's what we're trying to do."
Culliver revealed he also spoke with several family members, including his mother and a gay relative. He said those who are close to him realize his comments were not serious.
Perhaps Culliver's machismo hatched an awkward attempt at humor that backfired, in which case he was shockingly dim or incredibly impolite.
Listening to him on Thursday, it became evident that despite his look-at-me veneer, Culliver is uncomfortable with the crush of media. Naive and unaware, he didn't handle the Artie Lange exchange well and paid a steep price.
Culliver had to face a throng and explain himself. He apologized to the city of San Francisco. Though patient and calm, he looked like a third grader who knew he had done wrong and was willing to accept his punishment.
He got all the attention he could possibly want, for all the wrong reasons. This will and should stick to him for a while, at least until he says and does enough good work -- on and off the field -- to rub off some of the stain.