25 Seasons of Panthers Football: Hoover carries the load in 2000

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There's nothing quite like a Monday Night Football game to generate excitement in an NFL city, and Charlotte and Ericsson Stadium certainly jumped with electricity when the Panthers hosted the Green Bay Packers in primetime on Nov. 27, 2000.

Before the game, fans hoisted enlarged photos of the faces of play-by-play announcer Al Michaels and color commentator Dan Fouts on wooden sticks in sort of a tribute to the moment.

During and after the game, they paid tribute to one of their own, the Panthers player from that moment on known simply as "Hoov."

Brad Hoover, an undrafted rookie from Western Carolina, made the second start of his NFL career that night - only because of an injury to running back Tshimanga Biakabutuka.

Later in what became a 10-year career with the Panthers, Hoover earned his paychecks as a fullback blocking for other runners. But on this night, Hoover was Carolina's primary ball carrier, and he was determined to make the most of the opportunity.

"I'm sure some of the Packers were shaking their heads, wondering who in the heck I was," Hoover said recently. "But if they were, I wasn't paying any attention to it at that point. I was focused in on what my job was, and that was to go out and fulfill my dream and try to do my job as a player - and that was to help the Panthers win a football game. I'm sure if they looked at the scouting report and then at me, they were thinking, ‘What is he even doing on the field?'

"I'm sure some of my teammates were saying the same thing at the time, which is crazy but probably true. The way I look at it is - and this is the way I always look at life - when you are given an opportunity, if you don't seize it, it will pass you by. I tried to take the bull by the horns and seize that opportunity."

Hoover wasted no time doing just that against the Packers. On the Panthers' first possession of the game, he touched the ball four times in an eight-play, 68-yard touchdown drive. On third-and-6 from the Green Bay 33-yard line, he caught a pass from quarterback Steve Beuerlein and turned it into a 16-yard gain to keep the drive alive. On three other plays, he ran for 4 yards each time - up the middle, off the right guard, and up the middle again.

Midway through the second quarter on second-and-20 from the Carolina 17-yard line, Hoover broke through off left tackle for a 35-yard run. Although he would play nine more seasons and appear in 140 more games, it would be the longest run of his career.

By the time the first half ended, Hoover had totaled 99 yards of total offense - 68 yards rushing on 10 carries and 31 yards receiving on two receptions as the Panthers led the Packers, 17-14.

Hoover was indeed living - and fulfilling - a dream.

View photos from the Panthers season in 2000.

"For me, it was just one of those days that you dream about where everything you envision happens. And it happens in order," he said. "People talk about having a ‘being-in-the-zone' type of moment. Well, it was definitely one of those types of moments for me as a player.

"Everything that I played out in my mind came to fruition, came true as the game unfolded and played itself out. Especially with me being a rookie in my first year, it was different. For most rookies, me included, things didn't usually slow down. They happened at an elevated pace. But in that game, it slowed down for me to almost like it was in slow motion - where I knew what to do, how to do it, where to make the right reads, where to make the right cuts, what to pick up (as far as blocking when the Packers blitzed)."

Hoover had another powerful motivator that night. He feared that if he failed, he might soon get cut.

"As an undrafted rookie free agent, I was just trying to land on a football team. I wanted to do anything I could to help the team and make that happen," Hoover said. "My role that first year on the team, especially early on and really the first two-thirds of the season, was to be a role player, mainly on special teams. I had to go out every week and prove my worth on special teams.

"Then when they called on me to run the ball, I had to seize that opportunity. That whole year, every week I thought I was getting cut. I played like every week was my last week."

In the second half, the Panthers kept feeding the ball to Hoover, who kept vacuuming up the yards. He carried 14 more times in the final two quarters and gained another 49 yards, giving him 24 carries on the night for 117 yards. Over the remainder of his NFL career, he would have only two more seasons where he rushed for more yards than in that Monday Night Football game.

He also caught three passes for 41 yards and scored his first career touchdown on a 1-yard run to cap Carolina's' stirring 31-14 victory. Hoover forged a memory that neither he nor Panthers' fans would ever forget.

"Any time you're involved in Monday Night Football, it brings a certain amount of electricity-type atmosphere to any NFL city," Hoover said. "Hosting the Packers here at home, the Panthers' fans were definitely into it.  Everyone was excited about being a part of that game. You didn't have to be playing in it to be excited about it."

Asked if one play or another stood out, Hoover chuckled and added:  "I wouldn't say it was one or two plays, although I do remember getting my first touchdown in that game. It was just one of those things where it happened exactly how you envisioned, how you drew it on paper, exactly how you wanted it to go when you sat in the film session the week beforehand.

"When there was a hole there, I just read it and hit it. The guys on the offensive line and the other guys on the offensive unit were doing their things to help me through that game. But everything that could go right was going right. All I can say is that it was one of those experiences that you have maybe once or twice in your career. Everything that could go well did go well."

Hoover retired following the 2009 season and now is the head football coach at Marvin Ridge High School, just outside Charlotte. He said that night rates as his second-best memory of his years playing for the Panthers, right behind the 2003 season when he helped them reach Super Bowl XXXVIII.

He laughed heartily when asked about the VHS videotape he still has of the game against Green Bay.

"Now I've got a DVD disc player and I can't even watch it," he said. "It's packed away in a box in my house. Maybe one day I'll convert it over to a CD or save it to my computer. But I do still have the VHS tape of it.

"It was a special night for me; there is no doubt about it."

Not only for him, but for all Panthers' fans.

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