CHARLOTTE — This week's Panthers Legend of the Game is former fullback Mike Tolbert.
Tolbert spent five of his 10 NFL seasons here and was part of a dynamic and multi-faceted run game in the 2010s. He ran for 992 yards, had 19 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns, and was a physical blocker in a backfield that also included guys like Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton.
Originally an undrafted rookie from Coastal Carolina, Tolbert spent his first four years with the Chargers before coming back to the East Coast. Once he joined the Panthers, he became a two-time All-Pro and a three-time Pro Bowler.
The man they called The Toldozer will be recognized in the third quarter and will hit the Keep Pounding drum, giving the fans a chance to get on their feet and share in the moment with one of the team's all-time greats. Of course, he's around town anyway, so he's never far from connecting with his former team and teammates.
Panthers.com caught up with Tolbert this week to talk about his past with the team and what it all means now.
Q: As someone who stayed here after your playing days, what does it mean to come back in this capacity?
Tolbert: "It's humbling, really, to have them call. I'm here in Charlotte, and always around the stadium, and still close with guys like Jonathan Stewart, Thomas Davis, and Luke Kuechly, so it's an honor to be back around and see my contributions recognized.
"It's also going to be great to be there Sunday for another good reason. My 6-year-old daughter Milan is going to be out there dancing with the Top Cats during the game as well. It would be selfish to say I was excited to hit that drum because I'm just as excited to see her out there doing her thing. as well, and she's all right being the center of attention."
Q: As a former player here who has seen the message so many times, what goes through your mind when you hear the words Keep Pounding?
Tolbert: "I mean, Keep Pounding is just embedded in the Carolinas at this point. Every day of everyone's life, they're forced to confront the good, the bad, and the ugly, and that's just how you have to approach it. Sam Mills was a huge part of all of this, and it's a blessing for everybody that he brought that mantra to the organization and the Carolinas because no matter what you're faced with, you just have to Keep Pounding and keep finding a way."
Q: You were never afraid of a bad-weather game. Were you here last week in the rain watching the win over the Falcons?
Tolbert: "Ahh man, I was not, fortunately and unfortunately. We had a company Christmas party I had to be at, and that kept me from being there."
Q: It feels like that was a Mike Tolbert kind of game, with the rain and the wind, because you knew it was going to be about the run. You loved games like that, didn't you?
Tolbert: "I would have loved that one, for sure. That would have been a good time. On a day like that, you know the ball's going to be in your hands, you know you're coming downhill, and you know you're going to get a chance to make a linebacker pay.
"I've played in the rain, the snow, the cold, and yeah, a day like that is a running back, a fullback, and an offensive lineman's dream. That's what you ask for, is just a chance to do nothing but run."
Q: Speaking of running, you're still close with some of your former teammates, aren't you?
Tolbert: "Oh yeah, I live in the same neighborhood as TD. Stewart's my brother from another, so we talk all the time. If we don't talk a couple of times each day, it just doesn't feel right. We've stayed here, so we're close with a lot of guys.
Q: So what's Mike Tolbert doing to keep himself busy these days?
Tolbert: "My wife and I own and run a RockBox Fitness, and we're just moving to a new location in Waverly (a shopping center in South Charlotte). We've been at it for three years, so now we've got the feel for what running a business is all about and what we want for it in the future.
"I also try to do as much as I can to help out with my friend's foundation, which brings awareness to mental health issues in our community. (The Dream The Impossible foundation was founded by Doug Middleton, whose best friend struggled with mental health issues before his death).
"Now we've got the partnership with Glory Days apparel for the Toldozer shirt, which is cool, and all the proceeds from the sales of that go to Doug's foundation."
In addition to being recognized during the game, Tolbert will appear at a pregame autograph signing sponsored by Ticketmaster. Come by the 500-level northeast sky deck from 11:30 a.m. to 12 noon to get a chance to meet a true Panthers Legend.