CHARLOTTE - When Saints safety Roman Harper delivered a blatantly late hit after Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith cruised into the end zone for a touchdown Sunday, Smith somehow managed to act as if nothing had happened.
"People say I'm unpredictable. Well, I guess I'm growing up a little bit," Smith said. "I'm still waiting for my growth spurt, but I am growing up."
Smith eventually joined the skirmish that ensued, one notable outbreak one a day when emotions ran high and ran the gamut.
"We may be the little brothers and may get punched around, but we're not going to take it. We're going to fight back," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "You're coming into our place and you're going to come after one of our guys, we're not going to take it – that's just the way it is.
"I know some guys will get some letters and fines and all that stuff, but you know what, there's no place for that in this league."
While the situation with Smith – which resulted in a 15-yard penalty on Harper but nothing else – qualified as a heat-of-the-moment incident, one player on each sideline had reason to be emotional even before the opening kickoff of the Saints' 30-27 victory.
Panthers tight end Jeremy Shockey played three seasons for the Saints before being releasedin February, and Saints kicker John Kasay had played for the Panthers since their inaugural season before being released in July.
Consistent with their personalities, Shockey and Kasay took different approaches to the circumstances.
Shockey was animated all day, but he also put his head in the game in addition to his heart. Whenever the Saints had the ball, Shockey was in the ear of Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.
"As he watched, he saw some of the things that they were doing, and he was letting us onto it," Rivera said. "He could sit there and tell us, 'When you give them this, this is what you're going to get.'
"He was helpful. The guy has experience and knowledge that's invaluable."
Shockey, who caught three passes for 21 yards, tried to downplay the importance of the game from a personal standpoint.
"I always talk during the game. There was nothing different," Shockey said. "Football players get traded, get released. You play against the same faces, different numbers, whatever. We lost again. It hurts.
"We should have won it, and we did not. They are a good football team, and my hat goes off to them."
!Many around Bank of America Stadium tipped their cap to Kasay, who connected on all three of his field goal attempts and all three PATs in his homecoming. Panthers fans rained down kind words rather than cutting words toward Kasay on the sideline, and after one field goal he even got affectionate slaps to the helmet from Panthers players.
"People were very kind and welcoming," Kasay said. "Words cannot express how thankful I am."
Kasay, who joined the Saints in the preseason when New Orleans kicker Garrett Hartley suffered a hip injury, said he felt at ease in his return.
"It was very comfortable," he said. "I was here for 15 seasons in this stadium. I know the way things work, so it wasn't a huge deal from that standpoint."
Sunday, whether it took the form of gentlemanly gratitude, an unsportsmanlike attitude or a taking a little latitude with gamesmanship, emotions played a prominent part.
"The one thing I love about football is that people are passionate," Panthers safety Charles Godfrey said. "That's football."