CHARLOTTE – For the second week in a row, Panthers fans were treated to a special reunion of franchise legends. Friday night they came together to watch the re-air of the classic double-overtime win at St. Louis in the 2003 Divisional Playoff.
The watch party, sponsored by Coca-Cola and hosted by Kristen Balboni and Jake Delhomme, streamed on Panthers' digital channels while the game re-aired on WSOC-TV in Charlotte. Fans across the region can check local listings for the re-air time and date in their market this weekend.
Friday night's special guests included, in order of appearance: wide receiver Steve Smith, running back Deshaun Foster, defensive tackle Brentson Buckner, linebacker Mark Fields, running backs coach Jim Skipper, defensive backs Dante Wesley and Reggie Howard, guard Kevin Donnalley, offensive tackle Todd Steussie, defensive ends Al Wallace and Mike Rucker and cornerback Ricky Manning, Jr.
Smith began the show live with the group and was then featured with Delhomme later on in a pre-recorded segment because of his NFL Network obligations. Naturally, both conversations focused on the game's final play, famously known in the Carolinas as X-Clown.
Fields asked Smith if he knew he'd score when he caught it.
"No, I was hoping not to get blown up," Smith said. "The reason I was wearing a visor at that point was that earlier in the game, Travis Fisher poked me in the eye with a Three Stooges-type move. I caught it and when I realized I didn't get hit, I just thought, 'I can't get caught. They would kill me if I get caught.'"
Later in the show, Delhomme admitted the play wasn't meant to be a game-ender:
"We weren't thinking this was going to be a touchdown pass. It was third-and-long. We were just trying to get a first down. We had completed it earlier in the game, couldn't ever complete it in practice."
"Nooo," Smith retorted. "You just couldn't complete the pass to me. It's still green grass. It's a 15-yard route. I did my thing which is to beat the corner. Now your job was to throw it to the handsome man in the No. 89 jersey."
Other highlights of the show included:
Smith talking about the team's DNA and what led to going 10-4 in close games.
- "We were comfortable being uncomfortable." To which Brentson Buckner later attributed a Julius Peppers quote: "Winning close is great, but do we have to make it close every week? Why do we keep making it so hard?"
Wesley explaining that he rolled his ankle pregame because he wore high tops rather than turf shoes.
- "I wore some rec Reebok classics. I had no arch support. So when I got out there for warmups, I twisted my ankle. But I didn't want to tell Coach, so I just double-taped my ankle and kept going."
Rod Smart was the subject of a number of stories, including his propensity for being unclothed in random situations and a story of him shopping with Ricky Manning Jr.
- "Rod went out and bought 10 suits for 100 dollars to wear on trips," Manning recalled. "He'd wear them out too, and they were so tight on him. I remember one time we were at a mall, and Rod was trying on some shoes and he just sprinted out the store. Then 10 minutes later he runs back in, and is like, 'Yeah, I'll take these. They're good.'"
Donnalley joined the show at an opportune time for Delhomme to point out Donnalley's rash of penalties. He accounted for three penalties in four plays that led to a 1st-and-35.
- "I snapped in the huddle," Donnalley said. "It was like a movie. It was like 'Breakfast Club.' 'You want another Saturday?'"
Multiple players recalled a story around practice squad center Louis Williams. He idolized Troy Aikman, who was an analyst for the Wild Card game against the Cowboys. On the Friday before the game, Aikman came to town and Delhomme asked him to do him a favor.
- "I asked Troy to just walk through the locker room after practice," Delhomme said. "We had convinced Louis to go up to Troy and ask if he could snap it to him. Troy obliged in the middle of the locker room. But he got a little weirded out when Louis got down and started barking out the Mike and calls and everything."
Manning and Skipper talked about Manning's interception that led to the eventual game-winning toss to Smith.
- "I don't know why they didn't run it," Manning said. "It was first down near field goal territory and they are throwing it."
- "That was who they were," Skipper said. "That's what (head coach Mike) Martz and (quarterback Marc) Bulger did and they stuck to it. Thank God, too."