It has been almost eight years since the Panthers visited Houston, where the Carolina Panthers played and lost a remarkable Super Bowl against New England on Feb.1, 2004. It's ironic that on Sunday the architect of the Panthers' final three fourth-quarter touchdowns -- quarterback Jake Delhomme -- will be on the field as a backup quarterback for the Houston Texans. Only wide receiver Steve Smith and offensive tackle Jordan Gross remain from that Panthers' Super Bowl squad as active Carolina players.
I was there in Houston, watching one of the best games in any sport I've ever seen in person. A few notes that I still find interesting:
-- John Kasay's much-discussed kickoff out of bounds once the game was tied at 29-all with 1:08 left likely netted the Patriots only 13 yards. Their average drive start after kickoffs had been the 27 on the game's previous kickoffs; Kasay's errant kickoff instead meant they began on the 40.
I have always maintained Kasay's kickoff made little difference. Tom Brady had such control over the Panthers' defense at that point I think he could have gotten New England to a winning field goal even starting on his own 2.
-- Team owner Jerry Richardson gave each Panther employee two free airplane tickets, four hotel nights and two free Super Bowl tickets for the game.
-- Julius Peppers became the first athlete to ever play in both a Final Four and a Super Bowl in the game. He was generally ineffective against the Patriots, though. The Panthers' defensive line sported Peppers and an in-his-prime Kris Jenkins yet couldn't get a single sack.
-- At one point in the first half, Delhomme was 1-for-9 for one yard and had been sacked three times. He ended up with 323 yards, three TD passes and a quarterback rating of 113.6 (higher than Brady's 100.5).
-- Many remember the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" of Janet Jackson, but how many remember a streaker wearing only a jockstrap held up the second-half kickoff?
-- On a far different note, I totally agree with Smith's assertion this week that Tim Tebow is not as good a quarterback as Cam Newton. Tebow's recent streak in Denver has been remarkable, but he has so much more help on defense and special teams than Newton does.
-- As for Sunday's game in Houston, Newton and the Panthers have quite a challenge facing the NFL's top-ranked Texan defense. The Panthers can stay in this one for awhile -- they almost always do -- but Houston has quite a team and rookie quarterback T.J. Yates (formerly of North Carolina) has already shown he's cool under pressure. I've gotten the Panthers' outcome correctly the past five weeks in a row in this space.
My prediction: Houston 30, Carolina 20.