Skip to main content

Carolina Panthers having fun rolling through perfect season

When the doors swung open to the visiting locker room Sunday, after the Panthers capped off a dramatic win against the Saints in New Orleans, the music was blasting from some monster speakers in running back Mike Tolbert's locker.

And that's the first thing you need to know about a Carolina Panthers team that is generally unfamiliar -- aside from their quarterback -- to most of the sports world: They are the type of group that travels with its own speaker system to road games.

In fact, as far as introductions to the Panthers go, Sunday's postgame celebration might have been the perfect fishbowl moment, an evening that provided a glimpse at the type of fun this group will provide if, indeed, this undefeated season endures the postseason.

Think the Panthers seem like a boring, gritty team from a small market with little appeal aside from Cam Newton's flashy smile? Oh, you couldn't be more wrong. For those who do, indeed, know this team, the eventual introduction to an unknowing sports world might just be the most appetizing part of the whole thing.

Picture, if you will, 30 grown men bouncing to the beat of Lil Wayne's "3 Peat", singing together, in celebration of their third consecutive NFC South title, which they locked up Sunday. Picture 12 players assembling together for an impromptu group picture. Picture Tolbert turning off the rap music and putting on a Kings of Leon jam called "Fans", before a hoard of Panthers starts chanting Greg Olsen's name, because this was his song.

Then picture Olsen, seemingly playing the role of Sunshine from "Remember the Titans", belting the lyrics to a rock song, in a suddenly quiet room full of players who seemed far more engaged by the previous hip-hop tunes.

Yes, this felt like something out of a Disney movie. And that's because the largely unknown, largely disrespected players on this team are so enchanted by each other, by the family around them, that they don't really even seem to care that they're largely unknown and largely disrespected. They embody that dream scenario of players who could preach all day about the "haters" but would rather spend their time looking around in awe of one another, loving every second of this undefeated run they believe they've earned through selfless hard work.

Go figure. Aside from being undefeated, the most discussed storyline off the field about this squad might be Newton's seemingly selfish-at-times personality. Soon, however, it could be time to see this team for what it really is.

Wait until you really get to know Josh Norman, arguably the NFL's best cornerback this season. The dude is a character. Honest as hell, sometimes to a fault, and the type of player very capable of achieving Richard Sherman-like fame.

Wait until you find out Luke Kuechly, one of the most ferocious linebackers in the league, might also be the nicest person in the league. Wait until you hear from Thomas Davis, the 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year. He'll make you wish he was also running in the upcoming presidential election.

Tolbert? Fun and introspective. Jonathan Stewart? Always open to a good conversation. Olsen? A total professional who is full of smart perspective on the Panthers' success under Ron Rivera. Oh, and yes, Jared Allen is also on this roster, in case you've forgotten. That's fun in itself.

Here's the point in all of this: The Panthers aren't just a team loaded with good football players. They are a team loaded with good people, the type of people you'll find yourself wanting to cheer on.

No doubt, other teams possess these types of locker rooms, too. The Arizona Cardinals, for instance, are another group that will impress the sports world when we finally start to get to know them.

But on Sunday, as the Panthers pulled out the boxes of hats celebrating their division title, the truth became as clear as the music ripping through the speakers in Tolbert's locker: You might not yet know this group. You might not yet have seen them play very often. But soon, you will.

And you'll wonder why we didn't bother to get to know them sooner.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @JeffDarlington.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content