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For current Panthers, Muhsin Muhammad and Julius Peppers' legacies loom large


CHARLOTTE — The Panthers have players born in the 2000s, so for many of them, Muhsin Muhammad and Julius Peppers are abstract concepts.

Of course, since their names are going up on the concrete walls of Bank of America Stadium on Sunday as the newest members of the Hall of Honor, all of the current Panthers are aware of their reputations, at least now.

"Oh, I definitely know about Pep," said quarterback Bryce Young in passing, and since he hadn't reached his first birthday when Peppers was drafted by the Panthers, that's saying something.

Rookie receiver Jonathan Mingo admitted he was still learning since Muhammad had played five years and posted two 1,000-yard receiving seasons before he was even born.

"No, I'm young," Mingo said with a laugh. 

"I'll be honest, the first time I knew about him was when we were cooking burgers in Spartanburg," Mingo added, of a video shot in training camp with Steve Smith Sr. alongside them.

To drive the age difference home, Mingo helpfully pointed out that he played against Muhammad's son in college, when Muhsin III's Texas A&M team played Ole Miss.

And that's the entry point for some of the younger ones in the locker room.

Left tackle Ikem Ekwonu, a Charlotte native, played youth football alongside Muhammad's son here in town, but as a local, obviously was aware of the impact of both players. Again, we should give him a bit of a pass here, since he was 3 when Muhammad set the record for the longest touchdown in Super Bowl history. But Ekwonu was old enough to realize that when he saw Peppers on television, he was seeing "just an amazing athlete."

"It's definitely nice; I remember the days of watching them on TV, watching those two guys ball out, set the tone for the whole team," Ekwonu said. "But I mostly knew Moose as more of the icon rather than like the player, you know what I mean? I remember the plays and the history."

Safety Matthias Farley, another Charlotte native but an older one at 31, also had vivid memories of seeing them play.

"They were both so dominant for a long period of time, and they were really involved in the community," Farley said. "They just seem to embody what this franchise is about.

"Playing defense now, I remember watching Julius Peppers, just the way he got off the ball and he created havoc on almost every play, and how big and fast he was, it was pretty insane to watch. And Moose was just so consistent. And any time he touched the ball, the whole crowd would go MOOOOOOOOOOSE."

There will definitely be some of that Sunday, and that will bring back memories for other players who grew up in the area.

Defensive end DeShawn Williams, who grew up in Central, S.C., said he's also had the opportunity to meet Muhammad, which was surreal for him since he was old enough to have watched that Super Bowl. (His first jersey was of fellow Upstate native Stephen Davis.) But he's never had the chance to cross paths with Peppers, so he admitted that this weekend would give him a chance to see someone he's been in awe of.

"It's dope to see somebody that you grew up watching, a living and breathing legend right there in the building," Williams said with a grin. "I would like to just get some nuggets and gems from him, but I know there will be moments where I'll be looking around for him. I'll be like a little kid on Sunday."

Defensive tackle Shy Tuttle also grew up watching the pair of them, a Davidson County native who was well-versed in Panthers mythology. He said that when he was growing up, kids he played with would mimic Muhammad's touchdown celebrations.

"A lot of kids around the Carolinas grew up influenced by him," Tuttle said. "I remember a bunch of dudes trying to go between their legs when they scored."

Of course, the older ones have more specific memories of them, including some who played with or against them. Backup quarterback Andy Dalton recalled the first game of his third season, when Peppers was with the Bears.

"I remember walking out for the coin toss and saying that is the most intimidating-looking person I've ever seen," Dalton said. "Big dude, dark visor, just ridiculous.

"I just remember walking out there and I'm like, oh my gosh, this guy is not like the other people on this field."

That was clearly true of both of them, as Peppers retired after 17 seasons fourth on the league's all-time sack list, and Muhammad is in the league's all-time top 35 in both receptions and receiving yards, so they're the kind of names all football fans should know.

For veteran right tackle Taylor Moton, the memories were clear since he was born in Lansing, Mich., in 1994, when Muhammad was playing at Michigan State.

"I didn't follow the Panthers that much when I was a kid, but I knew about Moose," Moton said. "My family talked about him quite a bit, my grandfather knew him. So it was pretty cool how it came full circle when I got here, and you get to really know him. He's a remarkable person.

"Someone I look up to and someone that, you know, I appreciate everything he's done for the game here and for what he did for people back in Lansing, you know, someone for guys like me to look up to."

Moton was drafted by the Panthers in 2017, allowing him to arrive just in time for Peppers' return and his final two seasons, and he said he learned as much off the field as on it.

"He was the first guy I blocked when I got here," Moton said. "I mean, Julius was remarkable. He still had it; he was so strong, so physically gifted, and he just knew what he was doing.

"So, just learning how to be pro from him, someone who's done it for that long, I tried to pick his brain as much as I could just because, you know, I wanted to, I wanted to play the game with the same mindset as someone who's been able to do it as long as he did."

Long snapper JJ Jansen's the only one here to have been teammates with both. (He's played more games for the Panthers than anyone, so that's true of most.)

His first year here after arriving from Green Bay was Muhammad's final season. So, while he wasn't an eyewitness to all the spectacular plays the receiver made, he had a clear view of the presence.

"I mean, he was a great leader. He had a ton of perspective," Jansen said. "Obviously, he and Smitty were the focal points of our offense. And I just remember that year, one of the things I was really impressed with always watching Moose was a veteran receiver, a ton of accolades and big contracts, but he was one of the most ferocious run blockers I've ever seen, right? He and Smitty really did that together. It was really kind of an impressive thing to see.

"And so I just, I just saw it as such a great demonstration of leadership and of team play that at that age, he had all the accolades, the whole bit. He still had such a huge focus on blocking the run game. He never lost that edge in sort of a thankless job, especially for wide receivers. So that was always kind of a really cool perspective as a young player, watching that and seeing what veteran leadership looked like."

That year was also Peppers' final season of his first stint here, and Jansen marveled at him from the next locker. Peppers was on the franchise tag that year, while Jansen was at the minimum, so while they occupied the same space, they were not in the same tax bracket.

"I remember doing the math in my head, and I came home and told my wife, I said, the guy I sit next to makes 50 times what I do," Jansen said with a laugh. "It's better to play on third down than fourth down, and rightfully so, but just, I think that was really cool for me as a young player.

"That's what's so special about the locker room. I'm sitting right next to the most valuable player on our team and I'm the rookie long snapper. That was sort of a wild time."

As an Arizona native, he particularly remembered Peppers picking off a Kurt Warner pass and returning it for a touchdown that year, one example of the many such plays Peppers made over the years. But he also marveled at the person he got to know then and again seven seasons later.

"He was just such a huge presence, and he was so quiet; there was almost an extra level of intimidating force about him," Jansen said. "When he came back, he was a different type of guy, but still the same Julius, still the same Pep. But there was more of a vocal leadership. It almost felt like he was more comfortable in his own skin.

"He was just such a special human being, a fantastic football player."


Panthers Hall of Honor

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