Some players just make a connection, and Muhsin Muhammad was one of those players. The wide receiver connected with teammates, coaches, fans, team employees and others that he met during his 14-year NFL career that included 11 seasons with Carolina. On the field, in the locker room and in the stands, Muhsin will always be known simply as Moose.
Muhammad particularly made connections with quarterbacks. He ended his career ranked first in team history with 696 catches and 9,255 receiving yards and tied for first with 50 receiving touchdowns. At the conclusion of the 2009 season, he stood fifth among active NFL players with 860 receptions and 11,409 receiving yards and sixth with 62 receiving touchdowns.
As he made the connections himself, going from a second-round draft choice from Michigan State by the Panthers in 1996 to a seasoned veteran, Muhammad became an all-around player. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, he demonstrated a rare blend of size, strength and speed. Difficult to tackle because of his strength and deceptive quickness, Muhammad was especially dangerous after the catch, and his physical size and ability made him a tenacious blocker downfield.
His accomplishments were many, but a few highlights stand out (video produced by Mike Craft and edited Stephen Herbster):
• Had a memorable NFL debut against the New Orleans Saints (9/8/96), catching six passes for 96 yards - all in the second half. Each reception proved to be important in Carolina's 22-20 comeback win.
• 24-yard touchdown catch against the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship (1/18/04) gave the Panthers a 7-0 advantage and silenced the crowd as he dropped to one knee and raised his left index finger to his lips in the end zone.
• 85-yard touchdown reception versus the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII (2/1/04) put Carolina ahead 22-21, the team's only lead of the game, and stands as the longest offensive play in Super Bowl history.
• Led the NFC in catches for the second consecutive season with 102 in 2000 after ranking first in the NFC with 96 and being selected to his first Pro Bowl in 1999.
• Produced 62 receptions for 1,009 yards and 12 touchdowns over the second half of the 2004 season to almost single-handedly rally the Panthers from a 1-7 start to the playoffs and earn his second-career Pro Bowl invitation.
Muhammad connected with coaches and teammates. He epitomized what it meant to be a team player. He did his job - catching, blocking, rallying the team. He wasn't arrogant. He did not demand the ball every play. He did what was asked of him and more. If that meant making a big catch, he made the big catch. If that meant blocking, he blocked. If that meant pulling a teammate aside and talking to him, he talked to him.
Muhammad led by example. He taught younger receivers how to play the game. He took Steve Smith under his wing and helped him become the player he is today. Muhammad went about his job with an exemplary professionalism. As a result, he earned the respect of coaches and teammates alike. He was voted a team captain five times - four with the Panthers (2002, 2003, 2004 and 2008) and one with the Bears (2007) and served as Carolina's player representative in 2009.
In Arabic, Muhsin means charitable and one who does good deeds. Just as he performed at a high level on the field, Muhammad connected in the community and continues to do many good deeds off the field. He visited schools and participated in many other of the team's community projects. In addition, Muhammad started the M2 Foundation For Kids, which is dedicated to enhancing the education, physical and spiritual development of children. His love for children is an extension of his family. He and his wife, Christa, have six children - including two siblings that they adopted from Ethiopia.
Being a family-oriented individual helped Muhammad connect with Panthers fans. People saw him in the community. They observed him at his children's school and sporting events. He and his family did public service announcements and appeared in ads promoting family issues. This allowed fans to view him as a regular person with a family just like them.
Muhammad's attitude and work ethic on the field resonated with fans. Fans appreciated this. Muhammad connected with fans because he treated them the same way he treated his teammates - with respect - and thanked them for their support.
Affectionately known as Moose to Panthers fans, a chorus of "M-O-O-S-E" reverberated through Bank of America Stadium every time he was introduced during starting line-ups or made a big play. Following touchdowns, he celebrated by putting the ball between his legs similar to a basketball player dribbling between his legs. Sometimes he even ran to the stands and gave the ball to a fan.
Muhammad also connected with fans because of the way he conducted himself in interviews with the media. He was honest. He was a straight shooter. He captured the audience with his big, wide grin or made you stop in your tracks when you heard his deep, baritone voice.
He connected with me as a wide-eyed youngster entering my second NFL season as a community relations assistant in 1996. Muhammad and I quickly became friends during his rookie season because of the closeness in our ages and my interaction with him through my job.
Muhammad was friendly and approachable. He always greeted myself and others with a smile and a handshake that swallowed your hand because his was so big. When Muhammad re-signed with the Panthers in 2008 following three seasons with the Bears, it was almost as if he had never left. Those friendships and connections remained.
Yes, Muhammad connected.