On the difference between the Panthers' chemistry compared to past teams: The analogy that I always use is like every typical football cliché that a coach wants you to buy into, people actually have. I mean it's guys who genuinely like each other and the next man up mentality isn't something that coach just talks about, it's something that the players believe in and encourage. When you look when Luke (Kuechly) went down, A.J. (Klein) stepped up and everyone was jacked. There is just a brotherhood with no drama. On my 2009 team, which is the team I would most compare this one to when I was with the Vikings, we had a very close locker room there too, but there were still some brotherly spats here and there. On this team, we just have a "no BS" policy and Coach Rivera does a great job laying out the plan. Then the vets do a good job leading and the young guys do a good job at listening and being a part of it. So, really I have never been in a locker room like this, I have been in ones close to it, but this one takes it to a whole different level.
On the performance and impact of Kawann Short: You know Kawann is doing a great job. As a defensive end, defensive tackles are like my best friend. I say the best thing for him is that he is athletic and he has all those tangible things, but one of his best qualities is how he recognizes blocks at a young age. I mean to have that kind of block reaction and understanding run/pass so that he can use his attributes to defeat the opposite player faster, I think that is the biggest thing that I have enjoyed watching on film.
On the advantage of having a guy like Kawann Short plugging up the middle: It's huge. I take it back when I had Kevin Williams in the middle too. It makes your job a little freer off the edge knowing that guys are going to step up rushing the middle. We have a lot of those guys when you look at Dwan Edwards, Star Lotulelei, and a bunch of other guys who can come in and get pressure. Obviously Kawann has had a tremendous year and he kind of anchors that defense in the middle. It's special and it's fun to watch and be on a defensive line like that where young guys are coming into their own. As long as Kawann keeps working, he is going to be a force in this league for a while.
On having a goal of making it to the Super Bowl one day: You always want to get to the Super Bowl. I've never been on a team where we start the year and say, "let's go 8-8." The goal is to win the Super Bowl. Whether the team believes it or not, that's always the coach's message and goal. If I would have to reflect back over 12 years, obviously I didn't get drafted and immediately think I want to win a Super Bowl right away. You have individual goals; you want to make the team, you want to start, and you want to do these things. I think that's why being on this team has been so humbling because sometimes you get so caught up in those individual milestones, making the team better along the way, but sometimes the overall team success gets lost. The most humbling thing of this year is that it is genuinely about winning and losing. It almost brings you back to your childhood days where nobody cared about your stats. It was all about did you win, or did you lose. That's what this team is about; did you win, or did you lose.
On where his football career started: Right here; I won my first national title at Townsend Field right here in Santa Clara. I went to high school in Morgan Hill and graduated from Los Gatos (High School). This is my backyard; this is where I grew up. My Mom lives like fifteen minutes from here and my Dad trained horses and managed ranches all over the Bay Area, then they moved to San Diego when I went to college. I mean this is it, this is where it started.
On whether this will be his last season: I really don't know. Those are conversations I'm going to have with my wife, my kids, and the family. That will be what it is when it is. I am honestly just present, I am focused on the moment and I want to go out and have the best game I can possibly have, best game of my career, on the best stage and help our team win a football game.
On who sets the tone in the locker room: It really is everybody. Probably the biggest character is Cam (Newton), I mean that guy is hilarious with most of the spotlight on him. There are a bunch of guys with their own personalities and everyone has their quirks about them, but it all works together. No one is trying too hard, no one is trying to be funny or trying to be in the spotlight. Guys are just being themselves and that's generally how it is.
On the amount of fun that this team has together: That's another rarity we have. Obviously Coach Rivera provides an atmosphere that is very honest. He wants your best, but he allows guys to be themselves and have their personalities in the system. Obviously we are about fundamentals and doing the right things through preparation, but at the same time he encourages guys to have fun. I think he understands from being a player that guys are playing their best when they are out having fun. He always reminds us to be no more than who you are and no less than who you are, just be you.
On the difficulty getting to Peyton Manning: His entire career, you never have to worry about him running away from you, but he gets the ball out so quick that you might not get there. His numbers over his career speak for themselves, so you have to keep going and can't let that get into your head, because the one time he does hold on to that ball, you have to affect him. It's a challenge and has been a challenge for the 12 years that I have been in the league playing against him and I don't see it not being a challenge until he decides to stop.
On the decision by Coach Rivera to hold him out of the NFC Championship: I think he had the plan set from the beginning, but I went out to practice that Thursday and he came in Friday morning and told me he was going to hold me out. I wasn't happy with it; you guys know I don't really pull punches, so I told him I didn't really agree with it because I felt like I was ready to go. That's the type of player I am; if I feel like I can go, I will, but I never want to hurt the team. At the same time, I am the player and he is the coach. I respected his decision, but that doesn't mean I have to be happy with it. It all worked out great.
On Coach Rivera relating to the players because he once was one of them: That's why I like Coach Rivera so much. It is hard to describe, there is just something about him where he is cool, calm, and collected. He gets it and allowed me to vent, but then at the end of the day he has to make the decision and I am going to respect it. Now we are sitting here getting ready to play in Super Bowl 50, so it's a pretty cool deal.
On having the "out of your hands" feeling in the NFC Championship: Our team has the culture of next man up, like I've said. As a competitor I want to be out there with my guy. It was never the, well if I'm not playing what's going to happen, I mean I'm not that cool. You want to be a part of it and want to be out there, but I knew the guys were ready and very capable. I was laughing with them when we were up 42-15 because it was like a pass rushers dream right now. You got a team that is throwing the ball deep, they aren't checking the ball down, so we had a good laugh at it. I am thankful for the opportunity and thankful that they brought me over from Chicago. When I got here I could just tell that it was special and there was a different feeling. You just want to do anything to fit it and help and I've always said this whole year, it has been a humbling experience for me. To do anything I can to help this team win has been a good deal.
View photos of the Panthers during their media session at the San Jose Convention Center.