Yesterday I attended the Carolina Panthers’ annual Countdown to Kickoff luncheon. It’s a pretty big deal, considering the fact that all of the players and coaches are in attendance. The Charlotte Sports Commission and the Charlotte Touchdown Club put on the event, now in its sixth year. This year was another sellout and the event was moved to a larger hall in the Convention Center to accommodate.
The Panthers Should Be Mean
The coolest thing about this luncheon is that each table gets a Panther player or coach as their guest. This creates a lot of suspense and anticipation. Everyone is sitting there hoping they get Jake Delhomme or Steve Smith or a big-name player like that. The players are announced in order by their jersey number, they come trotting out from behind a curtain, and the emcee says which table they are being paired with. Each table is numbered. Charlotte magazine was table fifty-seven. So we’re hoping we hear that number called after a star player’s name. We got Keary Colbert. Not bad. At least I knew of him and what position he plays. Last year I hadn’t heard of the guy we got, and I’ve since forgotten his name (sorry). The year before, the magazine was paired with Julius Peppers, though this was before I started working here.
Colbert was very cool. He didn’t seem to mind the million questions we were asking him—everything from where he lives to what he does in preparation for a game. The real Q&A session, though, is more formal. A panel consisting of Coach John Fox, Delhomme, Smith, Mike Rucker, John Kasay, Dan Morgan, and Jordan Gross took the stage to answer questions about training camp and the upcoming season. They were all on their best behavior, giving some of the fluffiest responses you’ll ever hear from professional athletes—this is great, that is so much fun, what a joy, everyone works hard. To be fair, the team is made up of a bunch of nice guys. But maybe a little too nice.
Even Steve Smith has become mellow. During the Q&A session he mentioned his wife and kids several times. Awww, how sweet. I’ve met him in person a few times. We photographed him last year for our Best Of the Best (B.O.B.) cover and he was a pleasure to be around. But what happened to the Smitty who had the over-the-top touchdown celebrations and the cocky attitude. Nowadays he talks about sharing the ball more with his teammates. No, Mr. Smith. Get yours! We want no fewer than 100 receptions and 1,500 yards from you. We want the #89 from 2005. We need more attitude from our Panthers. I know the Richardsons preach good character throughout their organization, but what’s wrong with a little Randy Moss-esque sometimes. You’ll never hear Moss talk about sharing the ball. Steve, my friend, the Panthers are only as good as you make them. And tell nice-guy Julius Peppers that he’s going to need to turn over some water coolers this season.
Come on Panthers. Get cocky. Be angry. Win games!
Start tonight against the Patriots.