Charlotte Sports Roundup: August 2019
ANOTHER MONTH, another handful of hold-your-breath moments for Charlotte sports fans. Here’s a roundup of some of the biggest sports stories in August:
Cam Newton finally made it into a pre-season football game … and the Panthers quarterback promptly suffered a sprained left foot in the first quarter against New England on Aug. 22. No fear, though -- he was back on the practice field days later, and is expected to start the season-opener Sept. 8 when Carolina hosts the Los Angeles Rams.
Final roster cuts to get the team down to 53 players were due Saturday afternoon, but a couple surprises came Friday when veteran running back Cameron Artis-Payne was cut, and kicker Graham Gano was placed on season-ending injured reserve. That means the Panthers will rely this season on kicker Joey Slye, the rookie who has been nicknamed “Swole Kicker” for his linebacker-like physique and who missed just one kick in the pre-season.
“Both Graham and the team were optimistic throughout this process that his leg would improve enough to allow him to kick,” general manager Marty Hurney said. “Unfortunately, Graham still had pain in his plant leg each time he tried to resume kicking. These are tough decisions, and we discussed all options, but ultimately we decided to place Graham on injured reserve today.”
By Sunday, the Panthers had added one more surprise to their list: They cut receiver Torrey Smith after waivers cleared.
“That was a tough decision. … That was a very, very tough one,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “(Torrey) is a young man who came in and did everything we asked. He’s a special person.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., his wife, Amy, and 1-year-old daughter, Isla, were involved in a plane crash Aug. 15 in Elizabethton, Tennessee, as Earnhardt Jr.’s private plane attempted a landing at a small airport near Bristol Motor Speedway. The Earnhardts, their family dog, Gus, and two pilots escaped with no major injuries before the plane erupted into flames.
Earnhardt Jr. took the weekend off from his NBC broadcasting duties, but was back not only in the booth but also driving in the Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway the last weekend of the month. He spoke with reporters for the first time Friday and said he was “thankful and ready to live our lives.”
“Being in a race car … you crash into the wall and flip upside down and the first thing you think of is, 'How good is the backup car?' and 'Why did that happen, how can we stop the next car from doing that?'" Earnhardt told reporters Friday. "I think the repetitiveness of doing that all my life has insulated me from some of the typical emotions and reactions you might have in a situation like that."
UNC Charlotte first-year football coach Will Healy is off to a good (and slightly cringe-inducing) start. The 49ers topped Gardner-Webb 49-28 in the season-opener Thursday, and Healy celebrated by ripping off his shirt in the locker room. Oh boy.