CHARLOTTE - Jordan Gross' playing career didn’t quite have the Hollywood ending he hoped for, but capping it off with a playoff game – albeit a loss – isn’t exactly a case of Rotten Tomatoes, either.
But now the Panthers’ longtime left tackle is savoring an unexpected curtain call five years after retirement, one that ironically could yield a batch of rotten tomatoes given how the football-player-turned-farmer found out about his inclusion in the Hall of Honor.
“I was in my barn,” said Gross, who was in the process of planting tomatoes at his Idaho farm when Panthers owner David Tepper called to deliver the good news. “My hands were all dirty in potting soil, and then the darn owner called me. I had to stop everything. If those tomatoes don’t turn out, I’m blaming it all on him.
“But it was awesome. I was very excited. I don’t think I ever tried to be a ‘me’ guy as a player in this building, but I’ll be honest – it felt awesome to get some recognition.”
Gross was an unassuming an NFL star as you’ll ever meet, but make no mistake – he was a star. Selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft by the Panthers (Carolina moved up from ninth when the draft clock expired on the Vikings), Gross was a mainstay at the highest profile position along the offensive line for the majority of his 11-year NFL career.
When all was said and done with a career that started with a Super Bowl as a rookie and ended with a fourth trip to the postseason and a third trip to the Pro Bowl in 2013, Gross had started 167 of a possible 176 regular season games for the Panthers. That’s a franchise record.
“I just felt like playing a lot was normal, but as you watch football more, you realize, ‘Maybe that is a little more rare to not miss time,’ especially into double-digit seasons,” Gross said. “Of all my attributes that I like the most was being consistent. A lot of players have better highlight tape, but I’d like to think my highlight tape and my lowlight tape aren’t that far apart.
“I came to learn over the years that my teammates really appreciated that consistency and with me not being a head case.”
Gross said always felt like and embraced being the man that every man could relate to, of being an “If he can do it, I can do it” symbol of sorts. He looks more like an “every man” than ever before in retirement, having shed 70 pounds shortly after he hung up his cleats with relative ease after working/eating hard throughout his career to maintain a playing weight in the 300-pound range.
After spending some time as a hilarious addition to the Panthers’ in-house media group, Gross moved back to his native Idaho and started Little Buddy Farm. With Dana, his high school sweetheart and wife of 18 years, on another part of the 80-acre farm, Gross learned about his legacy in Carolina being further cemented.
“We started dating my first year of varsity football in high school, so she’s experienced all of it. She was pumped,” said Gross, who also called it “cool” to be able to share the news with children Teddy, Rainey and Boone. “There have been accolades for football over the years, but this one is the best. It means a lot because I care so much about the people here. And to think that everybody thinks good enough of me to include me, it’s awesome.”
Best pictures of Jordan Gross throughout his career with the Panthers.