Jeff Mitchell experienced perhaps the most extensive highs and lows possible while helping anchor the Panthers offensive line from 2001 through the 2005 season.
Among Mitchell's claims to Carolina fame: He was the lineman who brought his own RV to training camp, so players could have a place to hang out and play cards and generally just escape the doldrums of living in a Wofford College dormitory.
We caught up with Mitchell recently and talked about his time with the team, which began with a 1-15 season in 2001 and also included a trip to the Super Bowl to top off the 2003 season, and what he's doing these days.
How is life today and what are you up to?
"It's good, man. I run a small business with my dad (Clay). He lives in Florida. I still live in Charlotte. My kids (son Jack, 16, and daughter Anna, 13) are at that age where they're pretty close to being out of the house. So my wife (Christine) and I pretty much just get up and do our thing."
What business are you in with your father?
"I bought a small business. It's been since 2009, so seven years ago. We manufacture triggers for hunting rifles -- bolt-action hunting and target triggers. We have retailers, a website, some large hunting outlets that sell them. It's been -- knock on wood -- so far, so good.
"He lives in Florida. I do the production up here. I don't do much. I deal with all our vendors and machine shops, foundries and finishers, that kind of stuff. I have some people who assemble and whatnot. And then I ship the finished product to him in Florida. And he does the hard part of the job. He answers the phones and fills the orders. He's definitely the guy who's got the tougher end of the workload."
Would you say there is a false perception that when you retire from NFL, you're set for life and don't need to do anything else?
"It's funny you say that. I remember I was retired for a year, and I started waking up real anxious. It didn't take long for it to dawn on me, 'Oh, I don't have a job.'
"I needed something to do. I had to focus on something. You are absolutely right: You've got to do something."
Do you still have the RV that once was such a legendary mainstay of Panthers' training camp?
"That's a funny story. So we took that thing everywhere. We went to Florida and back, horse races, NASCAR races ... of course training camp. We visited friends, family, all that stuff. We wore it out.
"So I knew I was going to retire. The last game I was in was January of '06. That following August or September, we took a three-week trip out west to see the Grand Canyon and all that. Well, I didn't realize that, first of all, three weeks was not nearly enough time. The kids had to be back for school and all that. And I had a schedule, so many hours I had to drive each day. So it was a grind, an absolute grind for me."
It turned out to be too much?
"This thing was huge, like a bus. So of course the kids are in the back, on the bed with my wife, watching movies as we're going by beautiful, scenic stuff. And I can't even take my eyes off the road long enough to look out the window.
"So we get back to Charlotte and I said, 'I never want to see that thing again.' I also thought, 'I'm sure I'll get over it.' I've never gotten close to getting over it. I never want to see that thing again."
What are your fondest memories of playing for the Panthers?
"The first thing I think of when you talk about playing for the Panthers is Jerry (Richardson), and what a wonderful owner he is. And because of that, everybody there on staff ... it's just a great organization the way they treat people, players and families. I was fortunate to be able to play for him – and Art Modell (the owner in Baltimore, where Mitchell played before joining the Panthers) was the same way. I just had two really good owners.
"And it could have gone the other way. I know that's not a specific memory, but that's the first thing that comes to mind when someone says Carolina Panthers to me."
What about the Super Bowl season?
"Making it to the Super Bowl made it a really good experience, in part because we wanted to do well for Jerry. Because we had some tough times. One and 15. That was my first year, 1-15. I had just won the Super Bowl in Baltimore, and then I came here (as a free agent) and we set the record for most consecutive losses (in a single NFL season).
"So it was like I was in a bad dream. I was like, 'What did I do?'"
What do you remember most about the Super Bowl season?
"I remember it was fun. We had a really good group of guys, a really good group of offensive linemen. A good offense, really, and a great defense. I guess what I would say, and the same thing applied to when I was in Baltimore, but if you go to the Super Bowl, everybody has to get along and it has to be a team effort. And it's not always that way. That's what leads to not getting that far, as far as I'm concerned. That year, everything seemed to fit.
"That enabled us to overcome some things, because, man, we were winning games by the skin of our teeth. (Kicker) John Kasay's foot, actually."