CHARLOTTE – Surprisingly, Greg Hardy doesn't like surprises.
But when it comes to the first playoff experience for the daring defensive end, he'll make an exception.
"This is my first time for this, and it's kind of exciting," Hardy said. "I really want to just see what's next. I don't want to know ahead of time. I want to wait for it and just enjoy it as it comes."
Playoff football is a special time for Panthers players, be it their first time like Hardy or their seventh time like tight end Ben Hartsock. Some say there's no substitute for playoff experience, but Hartsock isn't one of them.
"For young guys, it's obviously a new experience to go through, but we played in tight games, in important games that were kind of do-or-die for our playoff situation," Hartsock said. "That will be advantageous for our young guys."
Hartsock is one of 21 players on the 53-man roster with playoff experience. Just nine players have participated in a playoff game wearing a Panthers uniform. Only six were in the starting lineup for Carolina's last playoff game five years ago.
That doesn't mean this team is devoid of playoff experience. The coaching staff has six Super Bowl rings and 18 Super Bowl appearances to its credit, and linebacker Chase Blackburn and wide receiver Domenik Hixon both played on the Super Bowl winning teams with the New York Giants following the 2007 and 2011 seasons.
Hixon set a Giants playoff record for kickoff return yards during the 2007 postseason but was on injured reserve for the 2011 run, one that included a key interception of Tom Brady by Blackburn in Super Bowl XLVI.
"(Giants wide receiver) Amani Toomer told me when I got my first playoff opportunity, 'This doesn't happen every year, so prepare and take advantage of the opportunity,' " Hixon said. "He told me to just do the best I could do so I wouldn't have any regrets.
"That's what a lot of guys need to understand. You have to know how important it is."
Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards took a similar approach to his first playoff game. He remembers it like it was yesterday, though it wasn't. He saw his first playoff action with the Baltimore Ravens in 2006.
"As a young player, you want to play well and don't want to be the reason your team gets sent home," Edwards said. "I had a sense of urgency, but it helped me get through the situation."
Edwards is one of six defensive players who have started games this season to have started a playoff game before, but linebacker Thomas Davis is the only one to do so in a Panthers uniform.
Even so, Edwards is confident that first-timers like Hardy are prepared for the challenge and won't be surprised by what they see.
"We've got a great group of young guys that are hungry and are listening to the older guys telling them how great it is," Edwards said. "The outside distractions become more present when you're the only people playing – ticket requests and phone calls – and obviously the intensity will be up a little bit playing for a championship. But other than that, it's going to be business as usual.
"At the end of the day, it's football – at its highest level."
|Player||Team (Year)||Games Played/Started|
|Chase Blackburn||NY Giants (2006, 2007, 2008, 2011)|| 10/4 |
|Colin Cole||Green Bay (2004), Seattle (2010)|| 2/2 |
|Thomas Davis||Carolina (2005, 2008)|| 4/1 |
|Dwan Edwards||Baltimore (2006, 2009)|| 3/1 |
|Drayton Florence||San Diego (2004, 2006, 2007)|| 5/3 |
|Ted Ginn||Miami (2008), San Francisco (2011, 2012)|| 5/1 |
|Jordan Gross||Carolina (2003, 2005, 2008)|| 8/8 |
|Geoff Hangartner||Carolina (2005, 2008)|| 3/0 |
|Ben Hartsock||Indianapolis (2004, 2005), Tennessee (2005, 2007), NY Jets (2009, 2010)|| 9/5 |
|Domenik Hixon||NY Giants (2007, 2008)|| 5/1 |
|Charles Johnson||Carolina (2008)|| 1/0 |
|Colin Jones||San Francisco (2011)|| 2/0 |
|Ryan Kalil||Carolina (2008)|| 1/1 |
|Quintin Mikell||Philadelphia (2003, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010)|| 12/5 |
|Greg Olsen||Chicago (2010)|| 2/2 |
|Jordan Senn||Indianapolis (2008)|| 1/0 |
|Steve Smith||Carolina (2003, 2005, 2008)|| 8/8 |
|Jonathan Stewart||Carolina (2008)|| 1/0 |
|Mike Tolbert||San Diego (2009)|| 1/0 |
|Travelle Wharton||Carolina (2005, 2008)|| 4/4 |
|DeAngelo Williams||Carolina (2008)|| 1/1 |