I had an odd, touching conversation with my nine-year-old son about Julius Peppers’ departure from the Panthers this week. (I write about that departure today in this column, and why the Panthers still need to spend all that money they just saved).
Salem is the most sports-minded of our four children – heavily involved in both playing and watching sports. He doesn’t follow offseason news, though. Contracts, possible labor strikes – all that totally bores him. He just likes the games and cheers for all the local teams.
So he was stunned when his older brother told him Tuesday that Julius Peppers wasn’t going to be a Panther anymore. Salem likes Peppers, both for his multi-sport talent and because Peppers is the tallest Panther.
Salem often plays some sort of game on his bed that he made up and I don’t quite understand. It has to do with these oversized football cards that Panther mascot Sir Purr gave every kid at his school one time. It’s kind of like a version of the card game “War,” and Peppers always ranks as the most powerful card.
Anyway, he asked me why Peppers was leaving, and I told him that the Panthers and Peppers could never agree on how much Peppers should get paid to play for Carolina, so he was going to go somewhere else to play instead. I told him about Peppers’ “million dollars per game” contract of 2009, too, but numbers like that are a little beyond the comprehension of a nine-year-old. Shoot, they’re beyond my comprehension.
A few hours later, Salem came up to me while I was writing today's column on my laptop, and said:
“I wish I could give Julius all of my money.”
“Julius who?” I asked absentmindedly.
“Julius Peppers,” he said.
“Because maybe then he’d still play for the Panthers.”
I turned away from the laptop and faced him.
“How much money do you have?” I asked.
“Thirty-seven dollars,” Salem said, his face solemn.
I didn’t really know what to say to that. I told him some of the same things you probably would have in the same situation. I didn’t make a joke about it – “Oh, yeah, why don’t you give me the $37 and I’ll make sure and give it to Julius the next time I see him so he can fill up his gas tank on the way out of town” – because he was so serious.
I’m not saying that Peppers shouldn’t get a chance to play elsewhere after eight years in a Carolina uniform.
But it’s easy to forget sometimes all the little ripples a decision like this one has. All the No.90 jerseys in closets all over the Carolinas that will never be worn again. And all of the third-graders in the Carolinas with $37 stuck in a clear mason jar in their room, ready to give all of it up for one more chance to see someone they admire play one more time for the home team.