LOVINGTON, N.M.— Most of America knows Brian Urlacher as the fearsome star linebacker for the Chicago Bears.

People in his modest hometown, however, see him as a happy-go-lucky guy who has remained loyal to old friends and shared his good fortune with the community.

"He was always a real nice boy, a real good kid. He still is," said Trini Alvarado, owner of Mi Casa restaurant, right down the street from Lovington High School.

Lovington, with about 9,500 residents, sits in the southeastern corner of New Mexico, a five-hour drive from Albuquerque.

The town sprouts from fields of ankle-high yellow grass, with rusty warehouses and black pumpjacks visible in nearly every direction on the flat horizon. A heavy reliance on the boom-and-bust oil and gas industry is reflected in dozens of abandoned businesses.

Of course, there's also a passion for youth athletics, spurred by Urlacher's devotion and donations.

"We played sports. We played street football and played basketball, ran track, played baseball, all that good stuff," Urlacher said this week.

Plus, one of his favorites — pingpong.

Lovington has produced other sports figures — PGA golfers Ronnie Black and Sean Murphy, along with a handful of rodeo champions. New Mexico also claims golfer Nancy Lopez (Roswell) and auto racing's Unser family (Albuquerque).

But now it's all about Urlacher, and Lovington is buzzing with its favorite son playing in the Super Bowl.

"It's really good we have a hometown hero like Brian Urlacher," said senior Kathel Ochoa, a lineman for the Lovington Wildcats. "It's pretty cool to know somebody who's in the NFL."

Indeed, while Urlacher is a force in the NFL, he's even bigger — literally — in his hometown.

Last year, Nike representatives commissioned a full-color, 20-foot mural of Urlacher, enlarging a photograph from his high school days. The image is impossible to miss, filling the side of a vacant store along a highway entering town.

He's wearing his blue high school jersey with "Lovington" in block white letters. His angular teenage face gazes into the distance.

Lovington athletic director Chief Bridgforth, who coached varsity basketball when Urlacher averaged 25 points and 15 rebounds as a senior in 1995-96, said Nike supplied $22,000 in shoes for all the school's teams this season.

At Urlacher's request, Nike also provided football jerseys, pants and socks. The cleats worn by football players were scripted with the word, "Cats."

"We're one of the best-dressed teams in the state," Ochoa said.

Urlacher donated $40,000 for weights in the field house that is named after him. Every spring, he returns with NFL buddies like Bears teammate Lance Briggs and Jason Taylor of the Miami Dolphins for a charity basketball game in the gym where his old No. 11 hangs.

"Brian had a good experience here in Lovington, but I told him, 'You don't owe us anything,"' said head football coach Jaime Quinones, an assistant when Urlacher led the Wildcats to an undefeated state football championship season in 1995.

"To continue to invest in the community speaks volumes about his character and his loyalty. When he calls, I'll usually want to talk about the Bears. He wants to talk about the Lovington Wildcats," Quinones said.

Those who know him say that's Urlacher — always plugged into his old haunts and eager to help. He recently donated $1 million toward construction of an indoor practice facility at the University of New Mexico, where he played in college.

"He's just a big kid," Bridgforth said. "Well, now he's a big kid with a lot of money."

Bridgforth recalls the 6-foot-4, 205-pound teenager who qualified for seven events at the state track meet. Urlacher once asked Bridgforth, on the third day of basketball practice, to yell more often.

"It makes me play harder," Urlacher told him.

Urlacher often challenged his coach to pingpong matches before basketball practice, then meticulously logged the scoring. On a shelf near Bridgforth's desk is a framed photo of Urlacher sacking Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre.

"To Chief. You will never beat me in pingpong," the inscription reads.

Across Lovington today, residents are certain to be tuned in to see Urlacher play against the Indianapolis Colts.

Alvarado's restaurant will be open, across a road from the mural and near Urlacher's automobile dealership. She hired a Mariachi band and rented a big-screen TV for customers to enjoy her Super Bowl party.

"Brian is a lot like Lovington," she said. "He comes from a small town with a big heart."