Quarterback Steve Beuerlein remains the proud owner of the greatest single passing season in Panthers history, which makes it odd that he's most remembered for one of the single greatest running plays in team history.
In 1999, George Seifert's first season as head coach, Beuerlein completed 343 of 571 pass attempts for 4,436 yards and 36 touchdowns, with only 15 interceptions. The number of completions, yardage and touchdown passes all remain team records today.
What was that 1999 season like for you?
"It was a vindication in a lot of ways of what I believed I could do. And I just needed to get the chance and be in the right situation. It seemed like just about everywhere I went along the way in my career, just when it looked as if I had myself in what appeared to be a good situation, it ended up taking a bad turn – whether a coach got fired or whatever the situation might have been.
"I had a lot of adversity, a lot of ups and downs. And that's the way it is for most quarterbacks who aren't first-round draft choices or high second-round draft choices. You don't have a whole lot handed to you. You've got to take advantage of every opportunity, and you just don't know when you're going to get that next chance."
Talk about one game in particular from 1999, when you scored on a rare 5-yard run on the final play of the game to win at Green Bay, 33-31 …
"I think that saved my job. It is the play most people remember. I think it was because of the drama of it, the surprise element, what it meant to the Panthers at that time. We had been through a lot, and we were hanging in there. It was a shootout at Lambeau, and they hadn't lost there in December in I don't know how many years. (Green Bay quarterback Brett) Favre and I got in a shootout. I completed a pass to (tight end) Wesley (Walls) to get the ball down to the 5-yard line, and there were 45 seconds left or something like that. (Green Bay coach) Ray Rhodes, instead of taking a timeout and maybe giving Favre time to get them back into field-goal range, he let the clock run down. We took a timeout with 5 seconds left on fourth down.
"I went over to the sidelines, and everybody was huddled up like we always do and like everybody always sees on TV. We were all throwing out ideas and talking about what we could do. And George Seifert -- he was wearing those sunglasses on a dark, cold day at Lambeau – he just said, 'What do you think about the quarterback draw?' And I remember (backup quarterback) Steve Bono almost fell down, he was laughing so hard. Everybody was cracking up. They thought it was the funniest thing Seifert ever said. Even I was like, 'Come on, Coach. This is ridiculous. Just give us the play.' And he said, 'I'm serious. They'll never expect it.' And I said, 'Well, you're right there. They'll never expect that.' "
What happened next?
"So I run out onto the field. The linemen all want to know what the play is so they can talk about assignments and everything. I get in the huddle and I'm half-laughing and I say, 'You guys are not gonna believe this, but we're going to run the quarterback draw.' And then they all thought that was the funniest thing they'd ever heard in their lives. Everybody in the huddle was laughing their butts off.
"And I said, 'I'm serious. That's what they want to run.' And at this point (center) Frank Garcia looks at me and, well, he didn't use really good language but he basically said, 'Give us the real blankety-blank-blank play. Come on. The referees are about to play the whistle!'
"That's when I got serious and said, 'It's the quarterback draw. You guys just do your job and I'll find a way to get to the end zone and win this game.' And they were so mad. But we had to get to the line and run the play. It was unbelievable."
And, of course, you did what you said you'd do. How did you find a way to get it done?
"The way it worked out was I gracefully soared over the goal line to take it home. At least that's the way I tell the story. The safety was standing on the goal line, and for whatever reason he decided to go at my knees. If he would have taken me on high, I never would have made it – because I had no moves. I wasn't going to juke him. So I just kind of flopped over him."
Whether it was a flop or you 'gracefully soared,' wasn't there also some pain involved?
"The crazy thing was he put his helmet right on my knee, and my knee was planted. The pain I felt in my knee was excruciating. I thought I blew my knee out. So I'm going over the top of this pile in unbelievable pain, but I scored a touchdown and I'm the happiest I've ever been – but I think I've got a blown-out knee. So I'm in pain and I'm in agony, but I'm also euphoric. Then I roll over and I see the first of about 15 guys who are about to jump on top of me.
"Then I'm on the bottom of this dogpile and I literally think I'm going to die because I can't breathe, yet I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life. It was an amazing trifecta of emotions. Fortunately, I ended up just hyperextending my knee. So it was an amazing end to an amazing game – and like I said, it kept my job for me."
Nothing really came easy for you in your career, did it? Not even in that particular game when you threw for 373 yards or in that season?
"There was never anything easy that came for me, and that's what made me appreciate that season that much more. I think we averaged running the ball maybe 13 or 14 times a game that year. So we were throwing the ball, and teams knew we were going to be throwing the ball. There was a lot of pressure on the O-line, and those guys worked their butts off. I stuck in there and took a lot of hits. I ended up having five surgeries after that season was over.
"That's the way we all played. We all just gutted it out and fought to the bitter end, and we ended up getting a lot of credit for that even though we ended up not making the playoffs. It was an incredible experience, and I'm glad I got a chance to feel those things – to feel like I had established myself at that level."
Is it true you've had a total of 21 surgeries during and after your career?
"I had 19 while I was playing. And I've had two hips replaced since then. I just had my second hip replaced (last August). … I'm doing fantastic now. I'm retiring from the surgery business. I'm done."
You played for five other teams in your 17-year NFL career, but signed a one-day contract back with the Panthers in 2004 so you could immediately retire, officially, as a Panther. Why?
"I couldn't think of a better way to bring the 17-year run to an end. My heart has always been here with this organization and when I sat back and decided I wanted to step down, there was no doubt I wanted to do it as a Carolina Panther."