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Legend of the Year: Al Wallace


CHARLOTTE — This week's Panthers Legend of the Game is also the Legend of the Year, as the team is honoring former defensive end Al Wallace.

Wallace thought he was out of football after not playing in 2001 and was working as an assistant principal in Florida when he signed with the Dolphins in March of 2002. Then, when the Panthers traded for him just before the start of training camp that year, he not only found a place in the league but became a key part of their Super Bowl run during the 2003 season.

Playing as the third pass-rusher behind Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker, he had 17.0 sacks in five seasons here, including 5.0 each in 2003 and 2005, as the Panthers went to the Super Bowl and NFC Championship Game those seasons.

Al Wallace touchdown

Wallace 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 and recognize the honor.

Additionally, the team is presenting a $5,000 community grant in Wallace's name to the Burnette Nobles Fund, an organization formed in honor of fallen Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officers John Burnette and Andy Nobles, who were killed in the line of duty in 1993.

"The Carolina Panthers are proud to announce the launch of their inaugural Legend of the Year Community Grant," director of Legends affairs Jeremy Kelley said. "This effort is created to highlight and support Panthers Legends who continue to demonstrate exceptional commitment to community service and philanthropic efforts in their respective communities throughout the country and Carolinas long after their playing days.

"Al Wallace's presence and participation in club initiatives remains consistent, serving in nearly every opportunity provided, displaying the highest level of professionalism and commitment to community service this award warrants. While Al's most recent contributions are applauded, his body of work throughout the community has been exceptional over the course of time."

Al Wallace caught up with Wallace (who hosts his own sports talk show on weekdays from 2-3 p.m. on ESPN 730 and serves as a television analyst on Queen City News) this week to talk about his past with the team and what it all means now.

Q: What does it mean to be asked back around here and to be around the gameday experience?

Wallace: "For me, it's really an opportunity to recapture some of the feelings of playing here. The one thing I get asked the most when I'm around town is 'Do you miss the game,' and the thing I always tell people is being around the team, former players, current players, and the games helps recapture some of that camaraderie which I first started to feel when I got to training camp in 2002.

"Being older now, guys have gone on; they have lives and families of their own; we're all adults, so we don't always have time to connect, but being back gives me the platform to the Al Wallace from before."

Al Wallace and family

Q: When the Panthers traded for you in 2002, did you think you'd still be in Charlotte 20 years later?

Wallace: "I really didn't. I had gotten a job as an assistant principal. I thought I was done with football, and I knew I wanted to mentor young people. So when the Dolphins offered me the chance at a future contract that spring, I hesitated, but my family told me to jump at the opportunity to give it one final shot. I didn't know how it was going to go. Then, when I got the call from my agent that I was going to Carolina (traded along with a fourth-round pick for defensive end Jay Williams), I thought it was over. I had made peace with it. I didn't know if I would get a fair shot. But that staff gave me a shot, and here we are. I never saw myself lasting two years, much less still being here."

Images from the 2023 Allen Tate Prowl The Den event with Bank of America Stadium tours.

Q: When did you begin to realize that team had a chance to be something special?

Wallace: "To say we thought we'd go to the Super Bowl, I'd have been lying to say that. I knew we had a bunch of tough people because that's what John Fox put a premium on. He called us to be tough and smart. We knew we had just drafted Julius Peppers, and there were a lot of great players on defense. And then going into the next year, Jake Delhomme comes in, Stephen Davis comes in, Jordan Gross in the first round to help shore up that offensive line. . . .

"We finished '02 strong (winning four of the last five games), but when we won that opener against Jacksonville in 2003, it's like, man, this team can win some games. Then, when we went to Indianapolis in Week 6 and beat an undefeated team to go 5-0, that's when we realized we could go toe-to-toe with anybody.

"In 2002, we had some good pieces. After that Colts game, we knew that we were becoming the Cardiac Cats, and we'd be the team that people have to deal with."

Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Al Wallace

Q: What stood out to you about the Burnette Nobles Fund that made you want to support them in this way?

Wallace: "When I was growing up, youth sports were such an important part of my life and so many lives around me. And the job they do supporting youth sports here is amazing. The ability to mentor, to show the opportunities kids have is huge.

"Seeing their work in the community, the way they support families here, and the way they give back, that was huge for me. That's my why."

Images from the 2023 Allen Tate Prowl The Den event with Bank of America Stadium tours.

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