I wrote a long column you can find here about the 10-year anniversary of Fred Lane's death.
It happened 10 years ago this week, on July 6, 2000, and the story explores what sort of place Charlotte was then as a pro sports town and also updates the story of what happened to both families (Deidra Lane, Fred's estranged wife, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter after killing her husband that day. She got out of prison in 2009).
One thing I didn't get in the story, though, and wanted to put into this blog was the moment I first really noticed Fred Lane.
It was at the Panthers' traditional free scrimmage at their stadium in Charlotte -- mostly a practice, really, with some live intrasquad scrimmaging at certain points. If you're a longtime PSL holder, you may have been there, and if so, you certainly noticed Lane, too.
I had seen Lane a little before at training camp in Spartanburg, but not much. This scrimmage day (once called "PSL Day" and technically limited to seat-license holders, now open each year to all) preceded the first exhibition game for Carolina.
On that day, Lane burst for a 55-yard touchdown run against Carolina's first-team defense. He had a couple of other nice moments, too, and afterward a lot of Panther fans asked him to sign autographs. He would say later they were the first autographs he ever signed -- that at tiny Lane (Tenn.) College (enrollment 750 when Fred went there) everyone knew who he was and nobody wanted his autograph.
Anyway, from there, Lane became the Panthers' unlikely starting running back for awhile as a rookie and ended up with 809 rushing yards. In a down year -- the Panthers went 7-9 in 1997 after going to the NFC title game the year before -- he was a great bright spot.
Even today, more than a dozen years later, reporters going to the Panthers' free scrimmage day (usually in early August) talk about that day and whether there will be any "Fred Lane types" at the scrimmage this season. Invariably, there are not (this is partly because coach John Fox doesn't run nearly as many live plays in that setting as Dom Capers used to in Lane's time).
That day was the first of Lane's big moments. He would have a number more, but that, to me at least, was the beginning of the Fred Lane story in Charlotte.