CHARLOTTE – Saturday night turned into a special reunion when members of the 2015 Panthers gathered virtually to relive their rout over the Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game.
The watch party, sponsored by Harrah's Cherokee Casinos and hosted by Kristen Balboni and Jake Delhomme, streamed on Panthers' digital channels while the game re-aired on television affiliates across the Carolinas.
Special guests included, in order of appearance: that year's sideline reporter, Jordan Gross; safety Roman Harper, running back Jonathan Stewart, linebacker Luke Kuechly, cornerback Josh Norman, long snapper J.J. Jansen, quarterback Derek Anderson, defensive end Charles Johnson, cornerback Charles Tillman and safety Kurt Coleman.
In the 34th minute of the show, Harper told a story about how he was injured that night when he collided with Kuechly.
"'Have you ever had LASIK?' the doctor asked me," Harper recalled. "I told him I had eight years (ago), and he said, 'Your flap came off your eyeball.' I'm like, 'What?'
"I wore a visor in my helmet, so I never thought I'd get poked in it, but somehow Luke hit me hard enough that it knocked the flap off my eye."
Kuechly joined the show a little later and acknowledged his role in the friendly fire.
"I was going after the ball, and I missed," Kuechly said with a laugh. "Roman just got in the way, and I hit him. But obviously, he's seeing fine now, so it's all good."
When Jonathan Stewart arrived in the 45th minute, he remembered when a foot massager suddenly appeared in his locker.
"Lo and behold it was from Roman Harper," Stewart said. "The care that he took to know that I was hurting — it was his way of telling me he needed me. That was that locker room, guys telling each other we needed each other."
Kuechly and Norman appeared on the show together, and the duo began ribbing each other immediately. Kuechly also broke down his memorable pick-six at the end of the game.
"I had an opportunity to make a play on a ball that we scouted well, but they completed it," Kuechly said. "Then, in the fourth quarter, we got the same exact look. That time I was able to sit on it, and I made a good break on it."
After Kuechly ran in for the touchdown, a fan fell out of the stands from the front row, and Kuechly stopped to check on him.
"I think he had been celebrating the whole game," Kuechly said. "But the thing that was good for him was he landed square on his back. I'm almost positive it knocked the breath out of him. His face was like, 'Why am I here?' slash, 'I've been having a good time,' slash, 'I'm kind of hurt.' Then all the security guys were on him. It was just a unique thing. You couldn't have scripted it any better."
When Delhomme asked Norman about the game plan for that week, the confident corner said the defense already knew where Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was going to go with the ball before the game.
"It was all about just getting dressed," Norman said with a smile.
"I LOVE the confidence of an All-Pro cornerback," Delhomme replied.
Later in the show, Coleman described the origins of Thieves Ave., the name given to Carolina's secondary which helped account for a record-tying seven takeaways against the Cardinals.
"Everyone kind of had their own block in the locker room," Coleman said. "Eventually it was like, 'We're just going to be thieves, put on our ski masks and take what we want.'"
Everyone in the "Ave." had their own titles, and safety Tre Boston, who started as the customer service rep in 2015, is now the present-day CEO.
"It's really cool to see that legacy carry on to the current team," Coleman said. "That is something special."
There are sure to be even more memories shared this Friday when the Panthers host their second classic game watch party. That will again be hosted by Balboni and Delhomme as they and special guests follow the re-air of Carolina's dramatic double-overtime win over the Rams in the 2003 Playoffs.