CHARLOTTE – Hours after the reigning NFC champion Carolina Panthers reunited for the start of offseason workouts, tight end Greg Olsen recalled the offseason he endured as a rookie nine years ago.
Olsen was drafted by a Chicago Bears team in 2007 that, just like his current team, was coming off a loss in the Super Bowl.
"I came in thinking, 'Oh, this is going to be great. We're just going to find ourselves back in the same position. Why not?'" Olsen recalled. "We didn't even make the playoffs.
"That's reality, and we've got to understand it. You're not entitled to anything in this game. It's not, 'The Panthers had a great year last year; let's just pencil them in.' That's not how the game works."
The way to make things work in the parity-laden NFL is through hard work, and the Panthers began the long journey anew Monday with the first day of an eight-week offseason workout program. After a week with the strength and training staff, the players can be joined by the coaching staff for three weeks of on-field drills. The program will wrap up with four weeks of organized team activities, with the final week in mid-June featuring a mandatory minicamp.
The rest of the program is voluntary, but you won't catch Carolina resting on its laurels.
"We start from ground zero," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "Just because we made it to the Super Bowl last year doesn't mean that we're going to come in and be the NFC favorites to come back. We know we have to put the work in.
"We understand what it takes. We feel like we have the opportunity to be a much better team."
Olsen talked about the phenomenon known as the "Super Bowl hangover," something he experienced firsthand as a rookie. The Bears followed their Super Bowl loss in February of 2007 with a 7-9 season, making them the sixth consecutive team (including the 2004 Panthers) to fail to make the playoffs the year after falling in the Super Bowl.
"The second you think you've arrived, the second you think you've got it, you're done," Olsen said. "I've seen that play out on an individual basis throughout my whole career, and I don't want to see that happen to us this year collectively as a team. I don't think it will. I haven't seen signs of it.
"You guys that have been in our locker room know that we have a great group of guys that understand the business at hand and what needs to be done. We're going to count on those guys to understand what this path is going to be, that we're not going to just show up on the field Week 1 and just say, 'Hey, we're the defending NFC champs. We have the best record in the league. Let's go.'"
Since that Bears team stumbled when Olsen was a rookie, every Super Bowl loser has reached the playoffs the next season save the New England Patriots in 2008, one of just three teams since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 to go 11-5 and miss the playoffs.
However, the last team to return to the Super Bowl after losing it the previous year was the 1994 Buffalo Bills – the third consecutive Bills team to do it.
The last team to win the Super Bowl one year after losing it? The 1972 Miami Dolphins.
That Dolphins team clearly took things one step at a time, still standing as the lone undefeated Super Bowl champions. It's an approach this Panthers team must take, beginning today.
"I don't think our mindset right now on the first day of offseason (workouts) is – we need to get back to the Super Bowl. If that's our focus all offseason and that's the only thing we look on, we're going to miss all the steps that it took last year to make that possible," Olsen said. "It's step by step. You can't go one, two, ten. That's the same every year, regardless of how the previous year went."
View photos of Panthers players as they take part in strength training workout.