You may have heard this. Or not. You may have forgotten it. But it's true, and I was reminded of it this week when the Peyton Manning sweepstakes began (Miami, Denver and Washington are apparently among the front-runners among the many suitors hoping to get a chance at Manning, whom the Colts parted ways with this week).
The Panthers once tried hard to make a trade that would have netted them Manning before he ever played an NFL down.
This was in early 1998 before that year's NFL draft. Carolina had Dom Capers as its coach (and he did double duty as the main personnel guy, too). The pre-flameout Kerry Collins was the quarterback (this was six months before the "My heart's not in it" fiasco of the 1998 season, which led to Collins leaving the team and Capers being fired).
By then, Bill Polian (architect of the Panthers' team that made the NFC title game in 1996) had left Carolina to become president of the Colts (in December of 1997). Polian was always enamored of Collins, having drafted him in Carolina out of Penn State. In fact, Polian finally did get an aging Collins again in the 2011 season for the Colts for a brief and unsuccessful tenure as the Colts' starter this past year.
Anyway, back in 1998, the Panthers wanted to trade Collins to Indianapolis and were willing to give up several other assets -- starters, draft picks, basically whatever the Colts wanted within some reason -- to acquire the No.1 pick of the 1998 draft. The two teams had conversations.
And Carolina had its heart set on drafting Manning out of Tennessee with that No.1 pick if the deal could be worked out.
Ultimately, of course, Polian wisely didn't pull the trigger and the trade never happened. The Colts kept the pick, grabbed Manning and had an incredible run during the first decade of the 2000s with Manning as their quarterback.
Instead, Carolina was the one with the itchy trigger finger. After being unable to trade Collins for anything substantive, the Panthers instead shipped two No.1 picks to Washington for the rights to defensive tackle Sean Gilbert in April 1998, which goes down as quite possibly the worst personnel move in Panther history (drafting Rae Carruth in the first round is also a contender).
But what if Carolina had somehow convinced Polian and gotten Manning? What would have happened next?
First of all, I think Capers would have stayed the head coach a lot longer -- there would have been no Collins drama.
Secondly, the whole George Seifert "experiment" might have never happened. A player like Muhsin Muhammad -- who had a very fine NFL career already -- could well have had a Hall of Fame career instead. If Steve Smith had still gotten drafted by the Panthers in 2001, there's no doubt he would have already had a Hall of Fame career (although he might still get there).
And on and on and on. Manning would have transformed the Panthers in many ways and a thousand different decisions would have been made if he had had a 14-year run in Carolina instead of having it in Indianapolis. And maybe Carolina -- which made a Super Bowl in that same decade but lost it -- would have won one (or two) instead.