2003 Cardiac Cats reunion features previously untold stories, laughs and reflection

The Panthers on Thursday released a 40-minute virtual reunion of the 2003 NFC Championship team.

The group included recent Hall of Honor inductees Steve Smith Sr., Jake Delhomme and Jordan Gross along with Muhsin Muhammad, Mike Minter, Mike Rucker and Kevin Donnalley.

That team's head coach, John Fox, also logged-on as a surprise guest. He joined as Smith recalled a story about how Fox used — or overused — the word "tough."

In fact, there were several ribbings about Fox's play-calling, notably his love of the run game.

"Remember when we had the preseason game and [Fox] says, 'We're not going to throw the ball until we get a first down?'" Smith asked the group. "Me and Moose looked at each other and. ... I am just boiling inside because I knew we weren't going to get a first down just by running the ball. You can't!"

Delhomme later shared a memory of when he was approached by center Jeff Mitchell the week after Delhomme took over for quarterback Rodney Peete following a dramatic win in Week 1.

According to Delhomme, Mitchell told him: "Quit acting like you're not all happy. There's only one other person happier than you, and it's Rodney Peete because he doesn't have to play anymore."

The group shared several laughs with other inside stories, but they each ended the call with some reflection.

Some of the most moving words came from Smith:

"Me and Jordan were the youngest of this group, and probably I was the youngest, behavior-wise and maturity-wise. But [this year], I turn 41. Each one of you guys have been a part of helping me mature and grow up. Each one of you guys have contributed to my growth for where I am today. And I honestly would say that I wouldn't have been on the Panthers' roster as long as I was without real men like you guys.

"When you talk about ball, a lot of times you talk about family. But you guys are really family. I don't really say it too much, but I really appreciate each one of you guys because my kids wouldn't have the father they have today without you."

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