CHARLOTTE – It was the Saturday before the game against the Jaguars in Week 3 of the 2011 season -- the last time Jacksonville played at Carolina -- and the Panthers were going through their final practice in the rain.
Assistant offensive line coach Travelle Wharton, then a starting guard for Carolina, remembered the general sentiment from the players.
"It was like, 'Damn, why we practicing in this rain on a Saturday?'"
Well, maybe head coach Ron Rivera knew what was coming (although it's not like the Panthers had another choice back then).
"Here's what I will say," Rivera said Friday. "When we practice in the elements and then truly play in the elements, we do pretty good."
When the game broadcast began on CBS, a graphic flashed on screen saying there was a 20 percent chance of rain.
"We got all 20 percent," former running back Jonathan Stewart joked.
It was hot and muggy with partly cloudy skies when the Panthers and Jaguars kicked things off.
Then came some rain late in the first half. That evolved into a full-on downpour just before the two-minute warning.
"That was the hardest rain I've ever been a part of," tight end Greg Olsen said. "The storm literally just stopped over us. A little tiny cell over the stadium."
Moments after the downpour began, Jaguars rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert threw an interception to Sherrod Martin on a deep pass, and if you were watching at home you probably didn't see it. The camera lens – and everyone in the stadium – was drenched.
"It just felt like a dream," Stewart said. "You would slide like five yards when you got tackled. I just remember the water rising and you were literally standing in ankle deep water."
Cam Newton and the Panthers offense took over, and Stewart nearly pulled off something miraculous.
Stewart caught a screen pass and was leveled, but he never actually hit the ground. He landed on top of a defender and flipped back to his feet to continue running (watch the play in the video above).
Stewart scampered about 60 yards before he was brought down inside the 5-yard line.
But the officials took another look and determined that his left elbow was down.
"I wasn't down. That sucks. I don't think I was down," Stewart said all these years later. "It's still probably one of my best runs. I really wish they wouldn't have brought that back."
The Jaguars got another possession before half, and after a long run from running back Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville called a timeout with six seconds remaining in the half.
"They were pushing people out of the stadium because of all the water everywhere," Jones-Drew recalled. "It was definitely crazy a couple times getting tackled, because your face was in the water and it felt like you were drowning. It was nuts."
Then Gabbert tossed a pass down the middle to wide receiver Mike Thomas, and a coverage breakdown allowed him to make his way to the end zone for head-shaking 36-yard score as time expired. That gave the visitors a 10-5 halftime lead (Carolina opened the scoring with a safety).
"Stupid play – that's the only way you can put it," safety Jordan Pugh said after the game.
It finally stopped raining midway through the third quarter, but by that time, the field had already taken on several inches of water. Huge splashes occurred after every tackle. It was like a slip-and-slide. No one could get proper footing. Everyone had trouble holding onto the ball.
"The conditions were so unusual with that much rain. I mean, you were walking in water. It was a shallow lake," former left tackle Jordan Gross recalled. "I literally couldn't stop anyone bull-rushing me. There was no traction! It was like being on ice skates. It's hard not have to self-doubt when that's happening, because it's like, 'I don't know what to do!' I couldn't plant my feet in that rain. Just had to pray Cam got rid of the ball in time.
"My wife sent me a video that day of some poor fan – their seat was right where the water was shooting off the upper deck and hitting them right in the head. Just a garbage water waterfall right on your head."
The Panthers cut the deficit to two and then put together the game-winning drive in the closing minutes.
The winning score came courtesy of tight end Greg Olsen, who was actually lined up in the backfield at the start of the play.
"I was the H on that play. I was Christian McCaffrey before Christian McCaffrey," Olsen joked. "I ran an 'H cross.' I was the tailback. Steve Smith ran a drag to clear it out."
Olsen, who decided to ditch his gloves (something he never does) caught the pass over the middle, left the defender in his wake and ran into the end zone for the 16-yard touchdown with 4:20 to go.
Carolina then went for two, calling Olsen's number again with a fade route. That's right – a fade route to Olsen, who was split out wide with a linebacker covering him. Newton put the pass in the perfect spot and Olsen came down with it, making it 16-10.
"Yeah, that was probably the last fade route to me that we completed," Olsen said with a laugh.
There were a lot of laughs had in the locker room after the game.
Gross handed the game ball to Rivera, who had just claimed his first win as an NFL coach in a game that was unforgettable for everyone who took part in it.
"It was fun. We were all wet and everyone was like, 'Ah, that was great. It was all worth it,'" Stewart said. "It would have sucked to be that wet and be a loser; a soggy loser."
View photos from the first win of the Ron Rivera-Cam Newton era.