CHARLOTTE – It wasn't an "official" goodbye, but man, it sure felt like it.
"I came into this like this was it for me, at least here," tight end Greg Olsen said with dozens of media members packed into every inch of space around his locker. "I just didn't want any regrets. I didn't want to let that opportunity pass. You never get that opportunity back."
Then, as the final minutes of the loss ticked away, there were more emotions on the sideline as a line of teammates formed to hug the beloved tight end, who had two catches for 12 yards before sitting out the second half. The last one waiting for a hug was tight ends coach Pete Hoener. Those two have worked together since Olsen came to Carolina via a trade from Chicago in 2011.
"The reality that this very well could be it – not just here, but maybe for good," Olsen said of what he was feeling. "I got here nine years ago and my career was a little bit in flux. I was the odd man out in Chicago. This team took a shot on me trading for me. Pete has been my coach every day since I've been here. He's been unbelievable for my development. He believed in me and gave me a chance when I was kind of on the fence about whether I was going to be that next breakout guy or if I was going to be just another first-round bust, so to speak."
Yeah, Olsen was far from a first-round bust.
He blossomed into an elite tight end and became a true leader in the Carolina locker room.
Olsen caught two passes for 12 yards against the Saints, and if that was his last game, here's where he ranks all-time among tight ends:
- 5th with 8,444 receiving yards
- 5th with 718 receptions
- 8th with 59 receiving TDs
"I wasn't always the best athlete. I wasn't always the strongest, fastest guy. But I took a lot of pride in how I played," Olsen said.
It sounds like he's saying goodbye to his playing days, but again, Olsen didn't make any declarations about his future, acknowledging how hard that would be to predict (the 34-year-old Olsen has one year remaining on his contract).
So with the future unclear, he continued to look back fondly despite how challenging the last couple months have been as the Panthers finished on an eight-game losing streak.
"I couldn't be more thankful for these past nine years here. Just a great place to play. I'm proud of a lot the things we accomplished, proud of how far we were able to take this team," Olsen said.
"A lot of great people. I was just proud to do my part for the last nine years."
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen savored the final moments of the 2019 season finale at home against the New Orleans Saints.
Two of Olsen's buddies spent ample time talking about how much he's meant after the game. Below are full comments from linebacker Luke Kuechly and running back Christian McCaffrey:
Kuechly on Olsen: "You don't obviously know what's going to happen with that yet, but what Greg has meant to this team, this organization, this city, it can never be truly appreciated. What he's meant to this city and what he's done with the hospital, and what him and (his wife) Kara have done with their foundation and how much they support the community, and what they do with this organization is fantastic.
"He's consistent, and to be consistent for 13 years is very difficult, and he's an example of that. When you have a guy that comes in when he did and set an example for as long as he did – when you walk in this locker room, you try to look for guys to look up to, and when I first got here Greg was definitely one of those guys. I'm not always the best at vocalizing what people mean and how people impact you, but he's a special person, and there's not a lot of guys like Greg around in this league, in this world."
McCaffrey on Olsen: "You can't replace a guy like Greg Olsen. That someone who, I just read a text from Ryan Kalil when I had gotten drafted. Kalil and Olsen sent me a selfie, and I didn't know them back then, but they sent me a selfie. Just a big text saying how happy they were. I look at things like that and from day one, there's a lot of jokes about Greg being my Dad ... If this is his last one, obviously there has been a lot of people that have impacted me and he's right up there with the best. I can't speak enough good words about him to do the justice of the impact he's had on this team. The impact he's had on the community. The impact he's had on the Carolinas and the entire football league. He's one of the most respected guys. That's going to be a very sad day for all of us. But, the career he's had, obviously he's done a lot on the field, the impact he's had on me off the field means a lot more than that."