X-Clown may not have happened without Ricky Manning Jr.

Ricky Manning interception at St. Louis

CHARLOTTE – Everyone remembers the ending.

X-Clown was the play-call. Jake Delhomme to Steve Smith for a 69-yard touchdown and a trip to the NFC Championship game was the result. 

But rewind the tape 72 seconds. 

The Rams were driving and close to field goal range with a first down at the Panthers' 38-yard line. Then Ricky went and got one.

Ricky Manning Jr. was a Panthers cornerback from 2003-05, but he's best known for two weeks in January of 2004. He came down with four interceptions in two playoff games, still tied for second-most in NFL history, and helped Carolina reach Super Bowl XXXVIII.

Panthers fans surely remember Manning's three picks in the NFC Championship game at Philadelphia, but his interception late in the first overtime at St. Louis was arguably more important.

"I'm thinking maybe they are going to run the ball or dump it off to Marshall Faulk," Manning told Kristen Balboni on the latest edition of "Inside Scoop." 

"I'm on the backside in halves coverage, but the only guy that's threatening me is Torry Holt. He runs a nice crisp out route, but he stops. We had pressure on Marc Bulger. I saw the play, but I broke late because I'm a deep cover guy. I'm thinking there's no way he's still going to throw this ball."

But Bulger did throw it — and Manning made a spectacular one-handed catch. As the Panthers' sideline erupted, Julius Peppers was first on the field to congratulate Manning.

"He didn't really even say anything," Manning recalled. "I just remember him lifting me up in the air like I was a little child. He just looked at me like, 'You did that. You just saved the game for us.'"

View photos of cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. during his time with the Panthers from 2003-05.

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