CHARLOTTE – Captain Munnerlyn always hoped he would someday return.
Munnerlyn, who played his first five NFL seasons with the Panthers after playing college football about 90 miles south at the University of South Carolina, is back on a four-year contract after spending three seasons with the Vikings.
"This organization gave a little old boy from Mobile, Alabama, a chance to play this game that I love," Munnerlyn said. "I'll always have a special place in my heart for the Carolina Panthers, and now I'm back at it and ready to make that Super Bowl run and win it this time."
The beloved bulldog of a nickel corner met with the media Saturday moments after signing on the dotted line.
On what returning to the Panthers means to him: "A lot of excitement, relief. I'm just glad to be back, glad to be home. This is where my career started. This is the organization that gave me the opportunity to play this game at a high level and at the next level. I'm happy to be back."
On why he returned: "I look at this roster – I'm familiar with a lot of faces, familiar with the coaching staff – and then seeing the moves they've made in free agency, it was like, 'OK, they're trying to get back to the Super Bowl.' TD (Thomas Davis) and Charles (Johnson) did a lot of recruiting, and Luke (Kuechly). They were telling me to come on back. That's a big part of it too, to come back and play with these guys and finish what we started."
On being back in Charlotte: "This has always been home to me. I bought a house like five years ago here, so this has always been home. Even though I played in Minnesota, I always came back in the offseason and saw the guys, spending time at TD's house, seeing Charles and guys like that. I always wanted to make Charlotte my home, being a South Carolina Gamecock. When I got the opportunity to play for the Panthers and be here for five years, I made it my home. I'm married now, have three kids, and we've made this my home."
On watching his former team reach Super Bowl 50: "It was different. It definitely was different. We made the playoffs that year with the Vikings, but we fell short. I wanted to play the Panthers in the playoffs, but we fell short. But I came here for the experience. I actually came here when they beat Arizona (in the NFC Championship). Charles Johnson gave me tickets – the defensive lineman I should say, because we have two of them now – and to see those guys go to the Super Bowl was big. I was happy for them. I was rooting for them, hoping that they'd pull out the Super Bowl win. It was big for the city, too. The city was on fire. Everybody was excited. I wish I was a part of it, but I had a great thing going in Minnesota. We just fell short. But I definitely was excited for my old teammates that are now my new teammates."
On his postgame comments after Panthers-Vikings game last season questioning Carolina's wide receivers: "I'm a competitive guy. It was all out of fun. I was just talking a little noise, the little Gamecock in me coming out. It was out of competitive spirit – nothing against the guys in the locker room. When it got out like that, I was like, 'Man, no.' I called Coach (Steve) Wilks and was like, 'Coach, I didn't mean it like that.' And he was like, 'Ah, no, we got the message. We got the message.'"
On if he'll talk to wide receiver Devin Funchess, who he seemed to specifically call out: "I probably will, but I'll compete with him. I'm not going to back down. I want him to be a better football player. Now I'm on his team, so we're definitely going to want to compete against each other. He's going to want to prove me wrong, and I don't mind that. If I can bring the best out in you, I'm down with that."
On if he thought a return was possible after he left for Minnesota following 2013 season: "I always felt like there was a chance I could come back. I didn't burn bridges around here, always kept my nose clean. I always talked to my old teammates, and those guys were vouching for me to come back, saying the team was missing a nickel back."
On the value of nickel corners in today's NFL: "The league is changing. Nickel backs are playing about 75 percent of the time. I remember around Super Bowl, (New England Patriots head coach) Bellichick said they're in on defense about 80 percent of the time. And I said, 'Yes, that's good for negotiations for me.' You've got to have a nickel back. If your nickel back is not up to par, it can hurt your defense. In this defense, I have played well, and they know that. You've got to be a great blitzer in the defense and you have to be able to communicate and tackle."
On the Panthers' young outside corners, James Bradberry and Daryl Worley: "They came on at the end of the year. They made plays, made strides. My hat goes off to those guys, coming into the league with all that pressure on them on a team that just went to the Super Bowl, and from Day One they were asked to play. That's tough as a rookie.
"I'm excited to see what they do this year, and I can help those guys get better. We can help each other and change the secondary, have a better secondary than last year."
On reuniting with former teammate Julius Peppers, whom he played with as a rookie in 2009: "He's still got a lot left in him, and I played against him twice a year when I was in Minnesota. I've seen what he's still capable of doing as far as being productive in this league. He's still getting after the quarterback, which will make my job easier. I'm glad he's here. Pep, he still looks young. He's still ready to roll. I'm glad they signed him back and gave him the opportunity to finish this thing off right."
On the outlook for next season: "They're trying to go and get it now. If you look at the roster and some of the moves they've made, they're trying to do it now. They're not waiting and sitting back and looking to rebuilding. No. We're firing now. I'm excited about that, excited about being a part of that."
View photos of cornerback Captain Munnerlyn during his time in Carolina and Minnesota.