Kevin Donnalley played just three full seasons for the Panthers, but still he experienced close to the absolute lowest of lows and highest of highs over his limited time.
The offensive lineman who started 38 games for Carolina was a member of the 2001 Panthers' team that went 1-15, and he was right guard on the 2003 team that advanced all the way to the Super Bowl before losing to the New England Patriots. Along the way he tore and rehabbed an anterior cruciate knee ligament, and now he works in administration for the Charlotte 49ers' football program while also helping break down what's happening with his old NFL team for the Panthers Television Network. We caught up with him recently.
What was it like going from the 1-15 season as a player to the Super Bowl two years later?
"That was cool. The story I always tell is that I got to play with some great quarterbacks and some really good teams. I played with Warren Moon in the 1990s with the Houston Oilers. I spent some season in Miami with Dan Marino. Then I came back to my home state and got to play with the Panthers, and it was Jake Delhomme.
"We were a bunch of guys that other teams either didn't want or didn't think much of, but we found ways to play well as a team. It was cool the way that team bonded. It was something special, and that's why I've stayed close with a bunch of those guys. But man, Coach (John) Fox took us a long way in two years. It was fun to be part of that journey."
How is it going with the Charlotte 49ers?
"It's really neat. It's come so far in such a short period of time. We've played three seasons and (nine) games, and we're playing the likes of last year Kentucky and this year Louisville. We know they're a little bit out of our league right now, but that's kind of where we want to be. And it's been fun being a part of this program that's trying to get there quickly, but doing it the right way.
"Coach (Brad) Lambert is great. It's been fun to work with him. He's just got a steadying demeanor about him where he knows we have to build it the right way with a foundation for the long haul."
How did you end up getting involved in the program?
"It was about four years ago. I've known Coach Lambert for a long time, just from mutual friends. And when he moved to town, he and his wife, Angie, were looking for a place for their daughter and their two sons to go to school. And they ended up sending the daughter, Lucy, to Charlotte Christian – and that's where my kids go. She plays volleyball and my daughter plays volleyball.
"We just had a lot in common, and my daughter and Lucy just became very quick friends and did a lot together. They did travel volleyball together. And you know, when kids become friends, families become friends. When they're in those teenage formative years, you want to keep track of what's going on.
"So we just got to know the Lamberts really well. They had been here a year, a year and a half, trying to build the program and were getting ready to enter into Year One of actually playing football. And Coach Lambert just kind of threw out at me one time at a volleyball tournament – I remember it was in Atlanta – 'Have you ever thought about doing any radio work? Because we're looking for somebody to do color alongside Matt Swierad on Saturdays.' I had never really done anything like that, but I said I'd certainly give it a try."
That's how you crossed over to the media side?
"That's how I got started with the program. Then after calling the games for a year, it seemed like a great program and a great staff, so I wanted to become more involved. I spent the next year helping as an assistant in the weight room. It's something I knew about and had done for a long time through college football and playing 13 years in the pros. It was great doing that because year-round that's where the guys really spend most of their time, and I got to develop personal relationships, really, with all of them.
"It really helped out my radio work, too, because they weren't just pictures on a page, or names on jerseys real far away. I got to know them well, and to know their strengths and weaknesses, what they needed to work on. I think it helped with the radio."
Then things changed when the offensive line coach, Phil Ratliff, suddenly passed away after a cardiac episode in August of 2015?
"With the coach passing away last year, it was just a very difficult situation. Coach Lambert asked me to step in and fill that role, since the season was beginning a day or two after that had all gone down. They needed someone who more so had a relationship with the guys than anything else. They could have gotten better offensive line coaches with much more experience.
"But I knew all those guys. And really, through the first couple months of the season, they needed someone to put an arm around 'em and care about 'em, listen to 'em if they needed to talk, and get on 'em if they needed a little pushing. My goal was just to keep that group together and focused and pushing on through toward the end of the season."
But you didn't want to stick with the coaching?
"It certainly was not something I wanted to do as a career. We got through it and the Niners promoted Johnson Richardson, (Panthers owner) Jerry Richardson's grandson, to full-time offensive line coach. He was the tight ends coach and had been doing that a couple of years and had worked very closely with Phil Ratliff. That was a really good fit."
Why did you not have any interest in continuing in coaching?
"I just think it takes a certain personality, and I don't have that. It really is a grind, and it's got to be a lifestyle choice for the whole family. It's tough. There are a lot of things you have to look at. Experience matters, and I really had no experience at the recruiting part of it, being on the road.
"I enjoy being around the game. I really, really enjoy the stuff I'm doing with the Panthers. That's been growing a little bit each year."
So four years ago you were doing a Gameday show on Sunday nights after games, and now you are doing an extended version of that and a Thursday night show for Panthers TV. Tell us about that.
"(Television and digital media executive producer) Greg Brannon and his staff and the Panthers have really made a commitment to make it not only the best that it can be, but the best of all the NFL teams. If I'm with them on a trip or if I'm making my own trip somewhere during the football season, I make a point of checking out what the local guys in other cities are doing. And by far, I think what the Panthers are doing is blowing away everybody else. We're not the biggest market. But for what they have here, they treat it like it's the No. 1 market in America, and they do a really good job."