Monday, April 30, 2012

Good man, bad outcome: Paul Silas and the Bobcats

You'd think it would be an easy decision, right? The guy coaches the worst NBA team in history, he's got to go, right?

Right... sort of. Paul Silas indeed won't return to the Charlotte Bobcats next season -- the Bobcats just finished signing their names to a 7-59 overall mark, with a winning percentage of .106 that ranks as the worst in NBA history.

And yet... this wasn't all Silas's fault. In fact, you could argue that most of it wasn't his fault. Silas got to take many of the lumps as the Bobcats tore down the Bobcats' playoff roster of 2010 piece by piece. Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Raymond Felton, Tyson Chandler? Gone, gone, gone and gone.

Silas, 68, ended up this season with a team that was supposed to have an 18-20 point scorer in Corey Maggette who ended up missing half the season with injury and an otherwise young team that was hopelessly outmanned (especially inside) during most games. If Red Auerbach or Phil Jackson, they would still have lost and lost and lost. Not quite as much -- but they still would have been well out of the playoffs.

Of course, the team's youth and injuries don't mean that Silas has an excuse for everything (nor would he want to make one). Bottom line: he couldn't stop the slide. The Bobcats lost their final 23 games -- that's absolutely stunning. Silas at one point put his hands on Tyrus Thomas in a locker-room altercation -- that absolutely shouldn't happen.

Silas is a great guy and an honest guy, and he deserved better. His players all liked him and I think they respected him. But that 7-59 belongs to him, too, and so I can understand why Michael Jordan did this (and I now doubt Jordan will hire Silas's son Stephen for the job, although Stephen is going to get an interview and deserves one).

I'm conflicted about the whole thing, really. Silas with a better roster can do so much better -- remember, he had some success with the Charlotte Hornets as head coach long ago. I'm glad he will end up doing something for the Bobcats in an as-yet-undetermined role.

But Jordan also isn't going to fire himself, and so Silas was the obvious choice to go (he didn't actually get "fired," his contract simply ran out and won't be renewed).

Silas is a good man. This is a bad outcome. And until the Bobcats dramatically improve the roster, it won't matter who comes next.

5 final draft thoughts on Panther picks

After surveying all the Panther picks one last time, here's what I'm thinking:

1. For quite awhile, when the other team was forced to punt to the Panthers it has been a great time to go get a snack. Armanti Edwards stopped fumbling the ball on returns in 2011, but he just can't break one. He's been given plenty of chances back there and it's time for someone else to do it. Fourth-round pick Joe Adams (who ran four punts back for TDs at Arkansas last season) should take that job in 2012. And if the Panthers' wide receivers all stay healthy, I don't think Edwards makes the team this season.

2. I still don't think the Panthers did enough in the draft on defense, where the team lost the majority of its games in 2011. That said, unlike my colleague Tom Sorensen (whose post-draft column you can read here), I really like the pick of Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly. You simply can't have too many great tacklers on the field, and Kuechly has a built-in GPS for the ball.

3. But after the excellent Kuechly pick, the Panthers only used three of their final six picks on defense (DE Frank Alexander in the fourth, DB Josh Norman in the fifth and DB D.J. Campbell in the seventh). I would have rather them use at least one more on that side of the ball, where they allowed franchise highs in points and total yards in 2011.

4. I'm still not sure about Amini Silatolu as a second-round pick. I know that's about where a lot of draft analysts rated him, yes. But an offensive guard in the second round? It just seems to me there were greater needs out there. He's going to have to prove himself.

5. The Panthers have had a tradition of never taking punters or kickers in the draft, but they broke it Saturday with Wisconsin's Brad Nortman in the sixth round. I'm OK with that one -- a good punter is like a 12th defensive player. And the Panthers had to have one since they released Jason Baker for salary-cap reasons. Nortman is supposed to be very consistent and as long as the Panthers don't let him kick to Devin Hester (you know what I'm talking about), they should be fine there.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Most obscure Panther draft pick ever?

The NFL draft is filled with unfamiliar names, especially toward the later rounds. But I'm still not sure in 18 drafts that the Carolina Panthers have picked in an early round any player who is more obscure than Amini Silatolu, an offensive lineman for Midwestern State that they picked No.40 overall in the second round Friday night.

Did you know Division II Midwestern State was in Texas? Had you ever heard of it? Congrats if you have. I haven't, and I'm originally from Texas. (Turns out it's in Wichita Falls).

And offensive linemen, by design, are obscure unless they are being announced for holding calls.

But of course none of that matters. If a guy can play, he can play. Silatolu dominated Division II competition like Texas A&M-Commerce and West Texas A&M -- how many A&Ms are there, anyway?

He played left tackle in college but will compete at left guard to begin with, where the Panthers released Travelle Wharton in the offseason. Coach Ron Rivera said Silatolu is a "nasty finisher," capable of putting a lot of guys on their back. If you're an optimist, you may note that longtime Pro Bowl guard Larry Allen was also a D-II player.

Panther GM Marty Hurney is a proponent of drafting at least one offensive lineman every year and he generally does so -- Hurney believes that when your O-line goes sour you are generally dead in the water as an NFL team.

So here we go with Silatolu. It's a risk, for sure -- the Panthers are counting on Silatolu making an enormous leap from Division II ball into the NFL. But they thought it was worth taking. They used one of their 30 allowed "come-to-Charlotte" visits on Silatolu.

Now they will try to trade into the third round. Rivera laughingly put pressure on Hurney several times during a Friday night press conference to "work his magic" -- the Panthers currently don't have a third-round pick.

Video: Scott Fowler on Luke Kuechly's potential

Can Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, the Carolina Panthers' pick at No. 9 in the NFL draft, have instant impact on the team's leaky defense? Scott Fowler discusses that and more with Cinesport's Noah Coslov:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Luke Kuechly? I like it

The Panthers picked Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly at No.9 overall in the NFL draft Thursday night.

My immediate reaction? I like it. I like guys who were incredibly productive in college and never got in trouble. Kuechly, like Jon Beason, is an every-down linebacker -- a great tackler who also is superb at dropping into pass coverage.

The Panthers undoubtedly wanted insurance for two linebackers trying to come back from serious injuries -- Beason (who's likely to be OK) and Thomas Davis (who is attempting an unprecedented comeback from 3 ACL surgeries on the same knee and is much more iffy).

Kuechly might start right away -- Beason and James Anderson are sure things, Davis a maybe at best -- or at the very least he will contribute quickly on special teams and likely will start by midseason due to some sort of injury or just his production.

Believe me: Kuechly won't stay on the bench very long. The Panthers didn't pick him to be a backup. This is a very important pick for Ron Rivera, a former NFL linebacker himself, much like Cam Newton was.

Kuechly (pronounced KEEK-Lee) will help the Panthers on defense immediately, where the team allowed franchise highs in points and total yards in 2011. That's where they needed the help. And I like this idea more than taking UNC's Quinton Coples, who bottom line just wasn't as productive as Kuechly was in college.

Coples said in response to my question Thursday night in New York about the Panthers sending Ron Rivera and Marty Hurney to see him again in Chapel Hill Monday and then passing on him: “I think they made the best decision for their program and their franchise and that’s all I have to say about it."

Only bummer for me? I'm in New York, wishing I could personally interview the Panthers' No.1 draft choice. Not happening. Kuechly -- alone among the top 10 picks -- decided not to come to New York for the draft, watching it instead at home in Cincinnati.

Jordan needs to speak publicly more often

Michael Jordan finally defended himself and the Bobcats Wednesday in an exclusive interview with The Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell, taking on former Bobcats coach Larry Brown for comments Brown had made on Dan Patrick's national radio show.

No, not everything Jordan said was perfect. And not everything he has done this week has been perfect, either -- showing up at a hockey game in Chicago is not exactly the way you inspire confidence in your leadership of a team that is one game away from the worst winning percentage in NBA history.

But Jordan, as usual when he talks, made a lot of sense. The problem is he doesn't talk enough. He and the Bobcats have decided Jordan should basically do interviews so rarely -- pretty much only at the beginning of each NBA season, the end of each season and at some point around the NBA draft with a few rare exceptions -- that the average fan often wonders how committed or engaged Jordan really is with the team he owns.

I've been around him enough to know that he is committed. He can't stand losing. Never has been able to. James Worthy once beat him in 2 out of 3 games of one-on-one they played in Chapel Hill when both were in school at UNC, and Jordan has nagged Worthy to play him again for 30 years so he can get even. (Worthy, wisely, always said "No.")

I'm sure MJ is inwardly embarrassed that the Bobcats (7-58) have lost 22 games in a row.

But Jordan doesn't communicate that enough. He's a huge asset to the Bobcats, as well as their primary owner, and when the team looks like it's in crisis like this one does the top guy has to step to the plate more often to calm the waters.

Jordan did Wednesday, offering a few reassuring words to Bobcat fans.

"This was going to be a trying year – we knew that,” Jordan said in the interview. “But did we want to chase the most Ping-Pong balls (in the May 30 draft lottery)? No way. “Ever since I’ve owned the team (buying control from founder Bob Johnson in 2010), I think we’ve made some very positive moves on the business side. We had to make a difficult decision to turn over the (basketball) talent. This year the talent we had didn’t respond, but that doesn’t cause me to turn my back on the plan.”

The talent didn't respond? Well, that's a nice way of putting it. The Bobcats are horrid, having gone 0-for-April.

Some of Brown's comments sounded petulant on Patrick's show while others rang true. Jordan came off in his own comments as the one who sounded more reasonable.

That's one of MJ's gifts. He's a fine communicator -- when he chooses to be.

He just doesn't choose to be often enough. And when he doesn't, some other noise always is going to fill that void.

If you don't control the message, ultimately the message will control you. If Jordan's advisors really do have his ear, they should tell him that and get him in front of this team from a PR standpoint more often.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cam loses Madden 13 cover to Johnson

NEW YORK -- Well, Panther fans don't have to worry about the "Madden Curse."

Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson beat Panther quarterback Cam Newton in fan voting in the finals of the Madden 13 cover competition Wednesday - a competition Cam had dearly wanted to win.

Newton had "Cam-paigned," as he put it, with a seven-minute homemade video seen by more than 148,000 on YouTube. But Johnson - nicknamed "Megatron" - still won in the finals of the 64-player competition. More than 20 million online votes were cast.

The results were announced on a large temporary stage in New York's Times Square, with both players present. Newton and Johnson hammed it up -- Cam more successfully than the softer-spoken Johnson -- for most of an hour with two ESPN2 "SportsNation" co-hosts before Johnson was announced as the winner and his image displayed on huge screens around Times Square.

Newton looked totally surprised when the announcement came, but then recovered well.

"I thought you guys loved me!" he joked to the audience of about 2,000 that was watching the TV show live in Times Square (I was among those in the audience -- I'm in New York already covering the NFL draft).

Then Newton congratulated Johnson. "Big ups to Megatron," he said, using Johnson's nickname.

Both Johnson and Newton said they didn't believe in the "Madden Curse." Traditionally, the player on the video game's cover has gone on the next season to have either an injury-plagued or a less productive year. Some Panther fans had gone so far as to vote against Newton, hoping to combat the curse.

Mayock really does not like Coples and other NFL draft notes from New York

NEW YORK -- Here are five pre-draft notes that I came across in New York Wednesday when talking to a bunch of folks at an NFL event:

1. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock really, really does not like North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples, who the Panthers are considering taking with their No.9 pick (or later, if they trade down). Mayock has Coples going anywhere from No.12 to the early 20s in his mock draft, and here’s what he said about Coples when I asked him Wednesday:

“Here’s my deal with Coples: I’ve never liked his [game] tape [from his final season at North Carolina]. I wouldn’t draft him. But I do recognize the talent. He showed it at the Senior Bowl when he was motivated. I get nervous when guys have bad senior-year tape but great Senior Bowls. It tells me there’s a money drive there…. He’s a boom-or-bust guy. He can be an All Pro, and I don’t deny his talent… I just say ‘buyer beware.’”

2. Coples told me Panthers general manager Marty Hurney and coach Ron Rivera visited with him and members of his family for “a couple of hours” Monday in Chapel Hill.

“They came down to visit with me and my parents and got a chance to see my family and get familiar with where I came from,” Coples said. He added that it “would be great” to be drafted by Carolina and that in his mind the talk of his taking plays off is unwarranted.

3. Mayock believes the Panthers will ultimately take Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox with the No.9 overall pick. “Because there are so many offensive players in those first six, seven, eight picks, I think they [the Panthers] might have their pick on defense,” Mayock said. “You can look at [Boston College linebacker Luke] Kuechly. But I think ultimately Fletcher Cox makes a lot of sense there. He’s a 300-pound defensive tackle that can actually play on the edge also. He’s powerful. He’s young, which I like. He played in the SEC. He was dominant at times. His best football is ahead of him just because he is so young and hasn’t even grown into his body yet.”

4. Talk about playing it close to the vest. I talked with Cox – who came to Charlotte to visit with the Panthers – for awhile Wednesday in New York. I asked him a question I’ve asked various players 100 times before and never had it not be answered: “What are some of your strengths as a player?”

Cox said he wouldn’t answer that question. I have no idea why. He did say he liked Ron Rivera a lot.

5. There were about 25 NFL draft prospects at this event, and the one who attracted the most attention – even more than soon-to-be No.1 pick Andrew Luck – was former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. He’s a polished, funny interview, promising to unveil a mysterious pair of socks for the draft and also calling himself a “hopeless romantic” with a love of the music of Luther Vandross. Griffin will almost surely go No.2 to Washington Thursday night.

Now it's off to Times Square to see if Cam Newton ends up on the Madden 13 cover or not (to see how much he wants to be there, read my blog post just below this one).

Cam and his Cam-paign for Madden 13 cover

If you listen to Cam Newton’s seven-minute homemade video, Wednesday sounds like it will be one of the biggest days of his young NFL career.

Not because it’s the day before the NFL draft and his Carolina Panthers might get some help very soon. But because it’s the day that either Newton or Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson will be revealed as the player who will grace the cover of the “Madden NFL 13” video game.

Newton really wants to win. His homemade “Cam”-paign video – which has generated more than 148,000 hits on YouTube so far and likely a lot of fan votes – talks about how much he wants to win because he plays Madden so often. “It’s a big, big deal to me,” Newton said on the video.

Also, Newton tells the camera at one point: “Madden 13 needs a real gamer. I am that.” He also invited fans to play against him online and to date has played several, documenting the results on his Facebook fan page. (He won most of the games, he said, but not all).

Newton has said several times he doesn’t set any stock in the “Madden curse,” which has befallen many an NFL star over the years. In general, the player on the Madden cover (it was Cleveland running back Peyton Hillis in 2011) usually either has a down season or an injury-plagued one. Or both.

The winner – which was determined by fan voting – will be announced in New York Wednesday afternoon. It’s a made-for-TV event, with Newton and Johnson both expected to be on hand in Times Square for the 5 p.m. ESPN “SportsNation” show on ESPN2.

I should be there, too. I’ll be up in New York as of Wednesday morning -- as long as my flight has no issues -- already covering the NFL draft preliminaries for the Observer. So check my column and blog in both the newspaper and online Wednesday and Thursday for some behind-the-scenes stuff from this event.

It will be interesting to see how Newton reacts if he wins – and perhaps even more interesting to see how he reacts if he doesn’t.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kasay signs with Saints, says he would consider retiring as Panther

John Kasay, who kicked for the Carolina Panthers from their inaugural 1995 season until just before the 2011 training camp, has signed another one-year contract with the New Orleans Saints.

Kasay told me in an email interview Wednesday that he seriously thought about retiring this offseason. he kicked for the Saints in 2011, finishing second in the NFL with 143 total points. But he ended up deciding to kick for one more year -- if he can beat out the Saints' Garrett Hartley in training camp. It was Hartley's preseason hip injury last year that opened the door for Kasay to kick all season for the Saints.

"We had a very enjoyable season last year," Kasay wrote in his emailed responses to my questions. "Laura and the [Kasays' four] children had a great time traveling to New Orleans, and the Saints were very gracious and accommodating of our family. Also, my 17-year-old son Steven said, 'Dad, in this economy, it's not a good idea to turn down a job.' "

I asked Kasay if -- when he did eventually decide to retire -- he would consider signing a one-day contract with Carolina so he could "officially" retire as a Panther. "Yes, I would consider it," he wrote.

Kasay, who wrote a gracious thank-you note to all Panther fans shortly after the team released him and asked The Observer publish it, said he "knew nothing" about the Saints' bounty program that has caused coach Sean Payton to be suspended for the 2012 season. Cam Newton was among the four quarterbacks the Saints had put a bounty on, according to the NFL's investigation.

"It was news to me as it was to you," he wrote.

Kasay said he had that when he did eventually retire that: "My two passions are ministry and coaching. We will wait and see what the Lord has planned for us."

More from Kasay and this interview in my column for Wednesday's Observer.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Are the Saints in even more trouble? Looks like it

There's another startling report about the New Orleans Saints today, this one coming from ESPN's investigative show "Outside the Lines." It is reporting that Saints general manager Mickey Loomis had an electronic eavesdropping device in his Superdome suite from 2002-04 that allowed him to listen in to the opposing coaches' radio communications in real time -- although what, if anything, Loomis did with that information is unclear.

What is it with the Saints, anyway? After reading the "OTL" report, it's unclear to me whether the Saints really benefited from anything Loomis may have heard (and the Saints strongly deny the report with a number of statements from Loomis and the head coach at the time, Jim Haslett, which is also interesting and casts some doubt on the report). They were 12-12 during those three seasons -- one of those years was the Panthers' Super Bowl year -- and it was before Drew Brees and Sean Payton came along and everything changed.

But the backdrop for this is the Saints' bounty scandal, which has caused Loomis to be suspended the first eight games for the 2012 season and Payton to be suspended the entire year. Player suspensions have yet to be announced, but there will be some. Carolina likely caught a break when it got the Saints in Week 2 of the 2012 season, when some of those suspensions will still be active. (Although 22-27 players participated in the bounty program, no punishments for players have been issued -- they will be forthcoming soon).

If these earpiece allegations are true (Loomis said the earpiece was simply used to listen to the team's radio broadcast), NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is in an interesting position. He has traditionally come down hard on teams that skirt the rules (the Patriots' "Spygate" generated large penalties, too, but not as big as the Saints' bounty scandal). But this also happened close to a decade ago, and there are questions about the statutes of limitations since electronic eavesdropping is a federal offense.

In any case, the Saints are having a horrific offseason -- and to top it off, they haven't re-signed Brees yet either. The "OTL" report is definitely worth a read if you care at all about the NFC South. It's just bizarre, really, if this is true. And if it's not, then ESPN may be the one in for a whole heap of trouble.

On Cam, the Bobcats and the NFL draft

Three notes on a Monday:

-- I found Cam Newton's Madden video challenge to Calvin Johnson and to his fans funny and pretty genuine. It's very homemade (the video turns sideways at one point), and it sounds like Cam, who apparently is REALLY into being the cover of the "Madden 13" video game.

Newton gave information on the video saying he wanted to play both Johnson and some of his fans in Madden. What I'm wondering is: Has anyone actually played him who will talk to me? I'm planning on writing something about the CamPaign to get on the cover of Madden at some point.

Newton brags himself up big-time on the YouTube spot -- "My thumbs are so official on the sticks," "Madden 13 needs a real gamer. I am that" and so on -- I'm just wondering if he's as good as he says he is. If you played him, or know someone who did, email me at and let me know.

(Incidentally, Newton is posting some of his results on his Facebook fan page. Here's an excerpt from his latest post: "CAMpaign 2012 score update. Over the last couple days I’ve had thousands of game requests and I’m trying to get through as many as I can. I have to give it up to Wilcard719 who got me 24-15, your game is official! The results of the games that I won are: AlfredMohi 41-29, Husky Chipmunk 65-34, H0NK3Y K0NG740 41-20, WaRgOoN49 34-27. Special shout out to WaRgOoN49 who clearly underestimated my skills! Don’t forget to vote"

-- The Bobcats lost their 20th straight game Sunday to Sacramento, and they got crushed by 26 points by a team that had lost nine of its past 10. Tonight's game at Washington, I think, is their best chance to avoid ending the season with 23 straight defeats. If you missed my Sunday column on the woeful Bobcats, here it is.

-- The Observer will be sending me to New York for the second straight year to cover the NFL draft. Watch for my coverage from New York on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in the newspaper and online, plus don't forget to read our excellent pre-draft series appearing each day.

And remember that the Panthers have a free pre-draft party from 5:30-10:30 p.m. on Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium, where fans can get some autographs, see some behind-the-scenes stuff at the stadium, watch the draft on the big screens and even get on the field.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Rivera: Cam like a different person

Here's a preview of my column for Friday's newspaper and online:

After quarterback Cam Newton had what I consider to be the best rookie season by any NFL player at any position, you might think the Carolina Panthers wouldn’t want him to change one bit.

In fact, however, they are excited that he seems a little different. Listen to Panther coach Ron Rivera, who talked with Newton this week after the veteran players reported back to Bank of America Stadium Monday for offseason workouts.

“I had a chance to visit with him briefly and he seems like a different person,” Rivera said Thursday. “He seems more mature, in terms of ready to take some leadership roles.”

A different person? That’s a strong statement. And that, to me, was one of the most interesting things said when the Panthers held their annual pre-draft news conference Thursday.

Now this is me saying this and not Rivera, but I’d say the Panthers got just about everything they could possibly have imagined out of Newton in 2011 – except for consistent leadership.

Back to Rivera on Newton: “Last year he was very respectful of our leadership and our veteran players. And I think he looks at himself, as he should, as a mature veteran player that can really help this football team ascend. And I’m pretty excited about that for him.”

Newton was an absolute stunner last season. He accounted for 35 touchdowns (14 rushing, 21 passing) – the most TDs by a rookie in NFL history. His strong work ethic was a pleasant surprise. And at 6-5 and 248 pounds, he ran through and over enough defensive backs that he started making players think twice about where and how to tackle him once he got past a defense’s first level.

“There are guys out there in the back half of NFL defenses making business decisions at that point,” ESPN’s Herm Edwards, a former NFL player and coach for 30 years, told me once. “They’re going, ‘I don’t really want to tackle this guy.’ Cam is a whole different sort of cat. His athleticism is just like, ‘Really?! Really?!’”

But Newton also had a tendency to look like he was brooding on the sidelines, shielding his head with a Gatorade towel, when things were going poorly for a team that ended up 6-10. He could get so involved in his private pain that he had a hard time shaking his whole team by the shoulder pads and saying, “C’mon! We’re going to fix this.”

Read more on this topic -- and on the Panthers' draft prospects with the No.9 pick -- in Friday's Charlotte Observer and online all the time at

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

2 good things and 2 bad things about Panther schedule

I generally like the Panthers' 2012 schedule, which features two prime-time games (a Thursday nighter and a Monday nighter) and a bunch of glamorous games since they have rotated into playing the NFC East this season. You can find the full schedule here, but here are a couple of good and bad things about the schedule in my view.


1) The Panthers have a realistic chance at starting 2-0. They won't have an easier road game all season than Tampa Bay, which is their opener. Carolina beat the woeful Bucs twice last season. And then they will get the depleted New Orleans Saints in Charlotte. It stands to reason that -- although "BountyGate" suspensions for Saints players haven't been announced -- at least a few of the Saints' key defenders will be suspended for that game. The Saints will still be feeling their way with Sean Payton out for the season.

2) There are some wins to be had before Christmas in December, when the playoff picture comes into focus. Carolina plays five games in December, and the first four (at Kansas City, home vs. Atlanta, at San Diego and home vs. Oakland) will be tough but not a murderer's row.


1) Games 3-7. When you went 6-10, it stands to reason that a lot of teams were better than you a year ago. But the Panthers face five of them in a row fairly early in the season, starting with that prime-time game at home against the New York Giants Sept.20 and ending with a road game at Chicago Oct.28. In between is a road game against Atlanta and home games vs. Seattle and Dallas. No Tampa Bays in that bunch -- all of them were better than 6-10 a year ago.

2) Closing at New Orleans. If the Panthers are going to make the playoffs, they better qualify during the first 15 weeks. I don't like their chances going into the Superdome in the final week of the season (Dec.30th), playing in one of the loudest atmospheres in America against a Saints team that should be full strength and rolling on offense as usual behind Drew Brees.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Panthers 2012 schedule comes out tonight

The NFL has decided to release its 2012 regular-season schedule at approximately 7 p.m. tonight (Eastern time) on its NFL Network and (ESPN has a special, too, on the schedule tonight).

I will predict the Panthers get at least one and likely two prime-time games (either on a Sunday or a Monday night), given the attractiveness of their opponents and of 2011 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Cam Newton.

One very good prime-time possibility: the Panthers' home game against Denver and Peyton Manning and John Fox. Another: Carolina's home games against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants and Dallas or their road game against Philadelphia (Michael Vick vs. Newton could be a strong selling point).

We know Carolina will open on the road because of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in early September.

We also already know the Panthers' opponents -- we just don't know the order in which Carolina will play them. The home schedule in particular this year is as glamorous as it has been in a number of years.

To review:

HOME OPPONENTS (with 2012 regular-season record)
Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
New Orleans Saints (13-3)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)
Dallas Cowboys (8-8)
New York Giants (9-7)
Denver Broncos (8-8)
Oakland Raiders (8-8)
Seattle Seahawks (7-9)

ROAD OPPONENTS (with 2012 regular-season record)
Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
New Orleans Saints (13-3)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)
Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)
Washington Redskins (5-11)
Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)
San Diego Chargers (8-8)
Chicago Bears (8-8)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Is the new Panther jersey worth $100 to you?

The only obvious difference in the new Panther jersey is that it includes the new logo on the sleeves (the new logo is at right in this side-by-side comparison).

Here's a picture of the Panthers' "new" Nike jersey -- the black jersey with Cam Newton's number -- now available for pre-order for $100 in men's sizes.

The Panthers this week -- along with the 31 other NFL teams -- have started to accept pre-orders on new jerseys made by new NFL jersey supplier Nike. The orders don't actually ship until around April 26th, which is the first day of the NFL draft, but you can order them now online at the Panthers' website or the website if you've just been aching to do so.

But as we've talked about before in this blog, I think that unless you're dead set on having that slightly tweaked new Panther logo on the sleeves or just love seeing the Nike swoosh, you can easily get by with wearing your old jersey. There's just not much difference. To paraphrase the old rock band The Who: Meet the new jerseys, the same as the old jerseys.

Well, there is one key difference -- these cost more. The old Reebok jerseys were $85 for the basic model. These are $100 for men's sizes, according to the Panthers' website -- women's jerseys are $95 and youth jerseys are $70. (Those old Reebok jerseys, incidentally, are now $42.50 on the Panthers' website, but you won't find any Cam Newton ones among them).

One mistake I think has been made: the initial offering on for the Nike "Game" jerseys only includes Newton (No.1), Jonathan Stewart (No.28) and DeAngelo Williams (No.34) for men's sizes (and then Newton only for women's sizes).

What, no Steve Smith? (Smith is available in men's sizes on, however, in both white and black jersey colors -- thanks to several alert readers for telling me this.)

Smith is only the greatest player and the leading touchdown scorer in Panther history. Smith's No.89 is available in $70 youth jerseys right now on the team website for pre-order, however, and his number will be available in the $100 men's jersey version in July on (again, it's available on right now). I know a lot of people own Smith's No.89 already, but still.... I think Smith should have been available in the first batch on the team site.

For the folks who just have to have sewn-on letters and numbers, the Nike "Elite" jersey is available for a cool $250 and is only available in Cam Newton's No.1 at this time.

So what do you think? Are you going to buy one of these new $100 jerseys, stick with what you've got or do something else entirely?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cam Newton writes a poem (yes I am serious)

A statue of Cam Newton (photos here) was unveiled today at Auburn, along with statues of Auburn's two other Heisman Trophy winners (Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson).

Newton showed up looking resplendent as usual. But here was the unusual thing -- he recited a poem that he wrote himself (he stressed that he wrote it himself several times, and I think he did. It sounds like he talks).

You can listen to Newton read the text at in this video or you can read it below (it's better when he reads it -- Newton naturally knows how to work a crowd).

Newton's poem (which apparently was untitled, but is completely about his time at Auburn and references, among other things, a one-point victory over Alabama. The wise man he refers to is Auburn coach Gene Chizik):

365 days, that was my tenure,

But for some strange reason it felt like I've always been here.

All the blood, sweat and tears it took to get this

I'll always honor and cherish this.

My road to the top had a couple of pit stops

But during my time at Auburn, the love of the Auburn family would not let my morale drop.

Greatness was what I strived for and greatness is what I got

The mentality of the Auburn man took me to the top.

Some people will never understand the feeling of what it means to be an Auburn man

But I'm lucky enough to be able to raise my right hand and be able to say “I can.”

My time at Auburn, I don't know if it could have been any better--

Man, was it great.

We won an SEC title, a national championship

And, oh yeah, we beat that team, 27-28.

As a wise man once said, “This place,” as in Auburn, “was great way before you were thought of,”

And this place is where I will always love

So as I share this day with two of Auburn's beloved

I want to end by saying “War Eagle” and “I believe in Auburn and love it.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

Come on D Wade -- no one should be paid to play in Olympics

I really like the Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade as a player and as a person, almost all of the time. One of the exceptions, however, came this week when Wade opined that NBA players in the Olympics should get paid.

After that comment made the rounds, Wade then backtracked. He issued a statement saying players shouldn't get paid after all.

I doubt Wade changed his mind on that so quickly -- more likely he had it "changed" for him by someone.

But to think that NBA players who make tens of millions should get more money for the privilege of representing their country -- that was one of the more tone-deaf remarks any NBA athlete has made in years.

It also was an unintentional insult to all of the thousands of Olympic athletes who have given up an inordinate amount of time for many years to pursue their own dreams, with no chance at an eight-figure contract because they don't happen to be great at a sport that has a well-organized pro league. Those athletes live on the verge of poverty, just hoping to make the team.

Now I'm not saying that the athletes should have to pay their way to London for the 2012 Games -- that's what the U.S. Olympic Committee is for. Their expenses should be taken care of, and their gear and their medical needs. But that's it. if you want to give them a performance-based bonus for a gold medal, I'm OK with that.

But the Olympics shouldn't be considered a job. It's an adventure, and a privilege.

Two other Olympic notes:

-- The U.S. whitewater Olympic Trials at the excellent U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte concludes Saturday night (it runs from 3-7 p.m. Saturday and is free and open to the public -- parking is $5). I'm writing about Caroline Queen, one of the best women's kayakers in America and a Davidson sophomore, for Saturday's newspaper. (UPDATE: Here's a link to the column).

-- Greco-Roman wrestler Dremiel Byers, who grew up in Kings Mountain and now lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., has a good shot at making the Olympics again. Byers was on the team in 2008 but didn't medal. He is the No.1 seed in the heavyweight division of the wrestling Olympic Trials, which conclude April 21st.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Arkansas reaps what it sows with Bobby Petrino

I totally agree with Arkansas's decision to fire head coach Bobby Petrino, who hired his 25-year-old mistress to work for the Arkansas football program, wrecked his motorcycle with her riding on the back and then tried to hide her involvement in the accident from both the public and his bosses. (It also came out Tuesday that Petrino once gave her $20,000 -- a "gift," apparently, from the married father of four. This was before he hired her).

But in this case, the Razorbacks cannot pat themselves on the back for taking the high moral ground, for they have reaped what they have sown. Petrino is a bad seed, a vagabond who watches out for himself No.1, No.2 and No.3. And they should have known that when the hired him.

You may remember Petrino's very brief stint as the Atlanta Falcons' head coach in 2007. He quit -- to go to Arkansas, which was offering him a pile of money -- before the season was over. Rather than tell the players in person, he left them each the same 78-word note in their locker, saying something about how much he "respected" them. They didn't respect him after that -- they torched him publicly, and rightfully so.

Petrino was the human version of tbe Baltimore Colts, fleeing in the dead of night to somewhere else.

Was that out of character? Not really. Take this line from the AP story about Petrino's firing Tuesday: "He infamously met with Auburn officials in 2003 to talk about taking the Tigers' head coaching job while Tommy Tuberville still had it."

This is a man who should be radioactive to anyone who cares about integrity. He really shouldn't ever get another head-coaching job in the NFL or in college. I'm not a big fan of Jim Rome, but he had a great tweet the other day about this situation, saying something like Petrino left "half of his face and all of his cred" on that road in Arkansas when he wrecked his bike.

But guess what? I bet he does. There will be a rehabilitation period, certainly. But someone, somewhere, in a few years will say, "Hey, this guy went 21-5 his last two years at Arkansas. And he had that trouble, yes, but he did say he was sorry!"

And then that program will walk down the same road that Arkansas has.

No, Petrino didn't kill anyone. Far worse things are done every day. But a leader of men?

He's not fit to be one.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Steve Smith extension an excellent move by Panthers

Very good news today on the Carolina Panther front: Steve Smith has agreed to a three-year contract extension that will keep him as a Panther through the 2015 season. There is also an option year for 2016.

Smith, who will turn 33 in May, had a career-rejuvenating Pro Bowl season in 2011 with Cam Newton throwing him the ball, catching 1394 yards worth of passes (the third-highest of his 11-year NFL career -- see his career stats here).

As I've written before, Smith is the best player the Panthers have ever employed in my opinion -- some might give the nod to Julius Peppers, but to me No.89 has stuck around longer, affected more games in a positive way and ultimately contributed more (he has scored 67 career TDs, more than any other Panther). Now Newton may ultimately surpass him, but that is a discussion for about 5-10 years from now.

Anyway, this contract extension is not a huge surprise (the Panthers have now confirmed the deal, first reported by Pro Football Weekly, and Smith will talk to the media at 3 p.m. today).

Smith has talked about wanting to finish his career as a Panther, and the Panthers have salary-cap issues and needed to restructure Smith's contract to avoid that $7.75-million base salary hit (and $10.7M cap hit) in 2012. The only way to do that and keep Smith on the team was a contract extension since this was the final year of his most recent contract.

We all know Smith has had his problems off the field, but as an observer of Smith for the past 11 seasons since Carolina took him in the third round in the 2001 draft, I can also tell you he has matured and he tries so much harder to be good at his job than so many professional athletes do. The Panthers needed to do this.

The author of the best play in Panther history (the 69-yard reception to win the double-OT playoff game at St. Louis) and the best game in Panther history (that stunning 218-yard receiving game in the playoffs at Chicago) doesn't ever need to play anywhere else. Smith should be a throwback, one of those players who start and end their career at the same place -- in Carolina. This was a win-win for both sides. Even in the worst of times, I've never advocated cutting or trading Smith -- he's been too valuable for too long, and there is still some tread on those tires. All he needed was a good quarterback to show that.

One additional plus: the two most important receivers to Newton right now are Smith and tight end Greg Olsen. They are both now signed through the 2015 season.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Could Cam Newton turn Madden 13 cover down? No

OK, I'm not a big "gamer." I don't play John Madden's popular NFL games, although a couple of my kids do and so I'm familiar with them and own a copy for the Wii. I haven't paid a whole lot of attention the "Madden Curse" -- the jinx that apparently strikes most NFL players when they are put on the cover the following season.

But I keep getting this question from readers and so will answer it here -- Could Panther QB Cam Newton turn down the Madden cover if he wanted to?

The answer, apparently, is "No."

Newton, currently in the quarterfinals of fan voting and "playing" Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald this week, has already agreed like the rest of the quarterfinalists to have his name and likeness on the cover if he wins, according to a PR person working for EA Sports whom I directed this question to. The players have all "agreed to participate in the competition and, if selected by the fans, will appear on the cover of Madden NFL 13," spokesperson Julie Foster of EA Sports Communications says via email.

The cover winner, incidentally, will be revealed on ESPN's SportsNation at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, April 25th and then immediately "will proceed to a photo shoot" for the cover, according to EA.

A short version of the curse's victims include Michael Vick, Garrison Hearst, Shaun Alexander, Donovan McNabb, Brett Favre and (last year) Peyton Hillis -- all of whom either had a significant injury or a significant downturn in their performance the year after they made the cover. Hillis, in fact, said in December 2011 after his fortunes in Cleveland dropped so precipitously:

"Things didn't work in my favor this year. There's a few things that happened this year that made me believe in curses. Ain't no doubt about it."

As for Newton, I imagine we'll get to see whether the curse is valid or not in 2012. Although I've heard from a number of Panther fans voting against Cam purely for superstitious purposes, his popularity is pretty strong nationwide and he's the No.1 seed among the eight remaining players (the other six are Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Rodgers, Calvin Johnson, Ray Rice, Patrick Willis and Victor Cruz). In his first two matchups, Newton received more than 80 percent of the vote.

One note about both the "Madden Curse" and the "Sports Illustrated cover jinx," which has a very similar them: Players who make the cover of either are at the peak of their profession. There is, generally, nowhere to go but down. So a regression makes some sort of sense. Still, it's something fun to talk about in the run-up to the NFL draft.

On DT, whitewater, Bubba and Panthers

A handful of interesting sports-related links and other stuff for your Monday morning:

-- It was 34 years ago today when perhaps the most sensational single-season NBA scoring race ever came to an end. David Thompson barely trailed George Gervin going into the final day of the season. With his teammates feeding him the ball constantly, DT scored 73 points in an afternoon game. But Gervin's teammates did the same thing that night, and "Ice" scored 63 -- just enough to retain his lead.

Thompson, the former N.C. State star who now lives in Charlotte, told me once that while his amazing jumping ability was God-given, he also worked on it constantly as a youth.

-- If you haven't seen it yet, The Observer's Ron Green Jr's story on Bubba Watson's win in the Masters Sunday is really worth a read. Ron is one of the best golf writers in America.

-- I wrote a story today about David Hepp, a whitewater canoeist who at age 38 has come out of retirement with the hope of finally making an Olympic team. Four years before, I first met Hepp when I did a first-person story on how it really felt to go down the competition channel at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Hepp, then retired, was my guide. It was a blast, even though we crashed.

-- My second story today was a column about the Bobcats, who are on an 11-game losing streak with 12 games to play in this lost season. A depressing subject, to be sure.

-- The NFL regular-season schedule will be announced soon, and I expect the Panthers to have 1-2 prime-time games given their higher, Cam Newton-enhanced profile. Among the possibilities: The Panthers vs. Washington (which might be starting RGIII by then), the Panthers vs. Denver (Peyton Manning and John Fox come to Charlotte) or either Panther game vs. New Orleans.

-- If you need an NFL draft fix, the excellent Peter King of Sports Illustrated opens his always good "Monday Morning Quarterback" column with a few thousand words on the big event that starts Thursday, April 26th.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Will the Bobcats win another game this season?

As I watched the Charlotte Bobcats in person for the first time in awhile Saturday night while they lost to the Atlanta Hawks by 20 points, I was struck by how far, far, far away the Bobcats are from being a legitimately good NBA team.

I know that is no news to you, if you follow the Bobcats even casually. But the carnage looks even worse in person. The Bobcats (7-47) are the NBA's worst team by a long three-point shot, and there's a realistic chance they won't win another game in this abbreviated, 66-game NBA regular season. That would mean the current losing streak of 11 would end up at a season-ending 23.

Now granted, there's not much of a chance of that.

The Bobcats have an even dozen games left, and Washington (the NBA's second-worst team, ahead of only Charlotte in the current NBA standings) is on the schedule twice, including Monday at home. The Bobcats are probably going to go 1-11 or 2-10 in that final 12-game stretch, maybe even 3-9, which will mean their final record will wind up around 9-57, give or take a game or two.

Awful, isn't it? The team's problems are so numerous that I won't go into them all here, but suffice it to say they aren't very good on offense or defense, they don't have nearly enough strong players and they also aren't entertaining. When the biggest cheer of the night from the "attendance" of 14,715 (there appeared to be about half that actually in the stands) is for the acrobatic dunkers who use a mini-trampoline during a timeout to entertain the crowd, you're in trouble.

Bobcats owner Michael Jordan wasn't in his customary courtside seat Saturday night, but he's got a lot of work to do here. Anthony Davis won't solve this problem if the Bobcats are able to win him in the NBA lottery. No single player will. The Bobcats are about three very good players short of being as good as, say, Atlanta, which is around a No.5 seed in the Eastern Conference.

It's saying something that this is the worst Bobcats' team in franchise history -- the Bobcats, after all, have never won a playoff game and have only made the playoffs once -- but there's no doubt that it is. This season absolutely can't end fast enough.

Friday, April 6, 2012

In Charlotte, Seinfeld riffs and rips on NASCAR, golf

I went to Jerry Seinfeld's live show Thursday night at Ovens Auditorium, and it was fantastic. The Observer's Theoden Janes does a fine job with an overall review of the 85-minute show here, but I thought I'd point out a couple of sports-related jokes Seinfeld made in this blog.

First of all, Seinfeld is no big fan of either golf or NASCAR. He had a funny bit on golf where he said it was the ultimate "avoidance" act by a father, that "golf" should really stand for "Get Out, Leave Family." (Seinfeld claims that fathers have only two real instincts compared to the many a mother has -- one is to shout "Daddy's home" and expect much bowing when they arrive home each day, and the other is to figure out ways to avoid the family shortly after getting back).

Seinfeld said his friends keep telling him he should play golf because it's a "challenging" game, which Seinfeld said wasn't a good enough reason to play anything.

"Challenging?" he said. "It would also be challenging to try to throw a Tic Tac from 100 yards into a shoebox. But that doesn't mean I want to do it, or that I want to stand around with the Tic Tac pro and discuss whether I should throw an orange or a wintergreen."

As for NASCAR, the sport wasn't part of Seinfeld's regular routine. But for his encore, Seinfeld took a few questions from the audience. (On one, a man asked the comedian if his three children were all from the "same woman" -- his wife for 12 years. "Yes," Seinfeld said. "Is that not the tradition around here?")

The racing question, screamed from the audience, was: "Do you like NASCAR?"

Seinfeld heard it and paused. "Hmm," he said. "A little bit." Another long pause. "I like it more when I'm here [in Charlotte]."

You could almost see Seinfeld trying to think of something nice to say about the sport without being dishonest. He finally came up with: "I like the guy who does the backflips after he wins a race [Carl Edwards]. I like the burnouts they do when the race is over. And... well.... that's about it."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cam Newton vs Tim Tebow Part II on Aug 26

The NFL preseason schedule was just announced for every NFL team and included was a whopper of a game for the Carolina Panthers, who play on the road against the New York Jets on Sunday, Aug.26th at 8 p.m. on NBC.

Yes, national TV, and Cam Newton vs. Tim Tebow. The two were briefly teammates at Florida, remember, where Newton was a mostly unknown backup and Tebow was the Heisman Trophy winner. Newton would later transfer to Auburn and win his own Heisman, and now Tebow has been traded to the New York Jets to back up Mark Sanchez.

The cool thing about this game is it's the third one on the schedule, which is traditionally the exhibition game in which NFL teams play their starters the most. So we'll see a lot of Cam and a fair amount of Tebow in that one, although Sanchez is still clearly the Jets' starter (for now). And we get the entertaining Jets coach Rex Ryan as a side dish.

Of the Panthers' four preseason games -- and the regular season schedule has not been announced yet -- only the Jets one has a specific day and time. The rest will officially be announced later. The full Panther preseason schedule is:

HOUSTON AT CAROLINA -- Somewhere from Aug.9-13... The Texans defense will give the Panthers' offense a good early test

MIAMI AT CAROLINA -- Somewhere from Aug.16-20....

CAROLINA AT N.Y. JETS -- Sunday, Aug.26th, 8 p.m., NBC national telecast

CAROLINA AT PITTSBURGH -- Either Aug.29 or Aug.30th (likely the 30th to give the Panthers a little more turnaround time)

We do know the Panthers will open the regular season on the road on Sept.9th or Sept.10th because of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte a few days before opening weekend.

Catching up with Panther tight end Greg Olsen

Greg Olsen and his mother Susan, a breast cancer survivor, at an event for Olsen's charitable foundation in 2010.
I caught up with Greg Olsen today and am preparing a long column on the Panther tight end for Thursday’s newspaper. In the meantime, a few highlights to whet your appetite:

-- Olsen’s foundation,, recently donated $50,000 locally to support breast cancer research and cancer patients. His mother Susan was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 while he was in high school and her illness shook the family. Susan Olsen is now a 10-year cancer survivor and Olsen's three-year-old foundation has raised and then given away about $250,000 so far, he says.

“We always said if we were in position to raise money and awareness and help people like we got help back in 2001, we would try to do it,” Olsen said. “That’s the root of how we started the foundation. It’s taken off more than we’ve anticipated.” A charitable music event will be held to raise money for the foundation at Charlotte's Coyote Joe’s later this year and a huge adult kickball tournament in Chicago, where Olsen used to play for the Bears, is scheduled for June 30th.

-- Olsen, who caught 45 passes for 540 yards and five touchdowns in 2011 for Carolina, said he thought the Panthers’ offense could be much better in 2012 than it was last year. That’s no small statement – the Panthers ranked seventh in the NFL in yardage and tied for fifth in points last year.

“I think the results can be night and day,” Olsen said¸ citing the benefits of a full offseason for quarterback Cam Newton and the rest of the cast. “What we did last year was solid. People were excited. But we only won six games. We have to be realistic about what we accomplished last year…. I think this year can be a huge step for the whole organization.”

-- Olsen said he thought the New Orleans Saints had been punished justly for their bounty program, which included a bounty being put on Newton in 2011.

“I don’t think there’s really a place for it in the game,” Olsen said. “At the same time, we all understand what we sign up for. It’s a physical game. It’s a violent game. People get hurt. I don’t think because they put the bounty on guys they hit them any harder, or if there was no bounty would hit them easier. I don’t think once the game starts, you have time to process that…. But just for pure principle, I don’t believe it should be part of the game. I think that’s why the commissioner came down hard on them and I think deservedly so… With player safey being such a huge initiative, he almost didn’t have a choice.”

More coming from Olsen – including his thoughts about fellow tight end Jeremy Shockey likely not returning to the Panthers -- in Thursday’s newspaper.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Panthers to host FREE NFL draft party April 26th

The Panthers will open up Bank of America Stadium on Thursday, April 26th – the first night of the three-day NFL draft – for a free draft party for all fans.

The free event will take place from 5:30-10:30 p.m. both inside and outside the stadium. The draft party will include free tours of the team’s weightroom and a chance to get on the field for the Primetime Kids’ Combine, which will feature activities like field goal kicks and the quarterback/wide receiver challenge.

Some Panther players will also be available to sign autographs from 6-8 p.m. and mascot Sir Purr and the Panther cheerleaders will also be there. The first round of the draft itself will be telecast on the big screens inside the stadium and also outside the stadium in the Morehead Street parking lot – the Panthers currently hold the No.9 pick in the 2012 draft.

Food and beverages will not be free, but will also be available for purchase. Click here for more information

Keep Pounding makes Panther uniforms so much better

A photo of the "new" Panther uniform, modeled by DeAngelo Williams and taken from the Nike Football Facebook page. The words "Keep Pounding" will now be sewn into the collar of each Panther uniform.

You won't see it from the sideline. You won't see it on your HDTV. But you will know it is there, and that's what matters.

As we already knew, the Panthers' uniforms this season are basically not changing (see the picture above of DeAngelo Williams modeling the "new" Nike version of the uniform, which pretty much looks like the old Reebok version).

But there is one significant change -- the addition of the words "Keep Pounding," which are sewn into the jersey near the collar where the tag is. (The Panthers' official Twitter feed, @Panthers, first tweeted this news).

Putting those words into the jersey was a brilliant idea (Nike's marketing folks came up with it) and means that the legacy of the late Sam Mills will be woven into every Panther jersey from now on. Mills, who died of cancer in 2005, was a Panther linebacker, assistant coach and the truest gentleman the team has ever employed. He coached throughout the 2003 Super Bowl season despite regularly going to chemotherapy treatments and he made a famous speech in the locker room the night before the home playoff win over Dallas following the 2003 season.

At that point, everyone in the locker room knew Mills was battling cancer, but few had heard him describe that battle in much detail. Mills told the players in that speech (later described by many of them as the best pregame speech they had ever heard):

"When I found out I had cancer, there were two things I could do -- quit or keep pounding. I'm a fighter. I kept pounding. You're fighters, too. Keep pounding."

Those words were eventually adopted by former Panther linebacker Mark Fields as well, who had his own cancer battle to fight. The two ended up doing a lot of good in the Carolinas raising money and awareness. (Fields, incidentally, is still alive but had to retire from the NFL due to cancer-related problems. At one point he was living in Arizona and had some legal issues -- he has declined numerous requests over the years from The Observer to interview him since he left Charlotte).

But to me, those words will forever be identified with Mills and that speech. So while the Panther uniforms technically haven't changed much at all, this symbolic change was just what the players needed to see as they pulled on their game jerseys every Sunday.

Anthony Davis would not solve every Bobcat problem but he would be quite a start

OK, so the Charlotte Bobcats are probably going to have a 25 percent chance of getting Kentucky big man Anthony Davis in the 2012 NBA draft. That assumes that 1) Davis comes out and 2) the Bobcats finish with the NBA's worst record, and I think both of those are pretty safe assumptions.

So, a 1-in-4 chance. That's a lot better odds than the $640-million multi-state lottery from last week, but to put it another way, the Bobcats have a 75 percent chance of NOT getting Davis.

Let's hypothetically say they do, though, rather than a still-good consolation prize like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Thomas Robinson (both of whom were playing Monday night, too).

If the Bobcats got Davis:

1) Their huge problem in defending the paint would be mostly solved. This is what Davis would bring right away. Bismack Biyombo is a poor man's Davis at this point in his career -- a similar skill set, but not quite as good as Davis at blocking shots or rebounding or handling the ball. I like Biz, but he can't do it alone underneath. But if they could both play down low at the same time, each coming over for help-side defense blocks, the Bobcats' D immediately becomes a force.

2) They still would have problems scoring. You saw Davis's 1-for-10 shooting night Monday. He had only six points, but still was the game's most dominant player with 16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists and three steals.

The most flattering comparison Davis ever gets is the one to the Boston Celtics' Bill Russell, who also wasn't a natural big-time scorer but won a ton of championships because he was the NBA's best defensive player ever AND he had a lot of teammates who could score. The Bobcats have some players who can score sometimes (D.J. Augustin, Gerald Henderson, Corey Maggette, Kemba Walker). But they would still be lacking a go-to-when-it's-money-time scorer.

3) They would sell a lot more tickets. Davis would continue the Bobcats' youth movement and, as the No.1 pick, could become the face of the franchise if he was good enough. He would give the team more of an identity. But he wouldn't be an immediate, now-they-are-in-the-playoffs fix (see John Wall, Washington -- he couldn't move the win needle much in Washington either).

Still, Davis would make them loads better than they are. He would intimidate people inside and his mere presence would allow the Bobcats' shooters to get more open shots. It would be a whole lot of fun.

But first, those 1-in-4 (at best) odds are going to have to pay off.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Panthers start rolling out new logo (new jerseys ready April 15)

An example of the Panthers' new Nike merchandise.

In the past 24 hours, the Panthers' website has started to offer Nike apparel featuring new T-shirts that include Carolina's new logo and the Nike swoosh -- see the above for one example. Most are $25 to $32.

Nike has taken over jersey manufacturing from Reebok this year for all of the NFL, which at one point led to a lot of speculation that the Panthers would radically change their jersey. After all, they are changing their logo (a story this blog broke with the following post, which remains the No.1 all-time post on "Scott Says" in terms of hits by a very wide margin. Why? I'm not sure. A lot more people are interested in logos than I thought).

The new Nike jerseys featuring the new Panthers logo are available for pre-order on April 15th on the Panthers' website, but don't hold your breath trying to get one anytime soon. The Panthers' website also notes that they won't actually be shipped until April 26th (the first day of the 2012 NFL draft), nor does it give a price for the new jerseys.

Panther New Era hats are also available for pre-order now at -- here are a few examples. The site warns, however, that if you order a hat today it may not leave the warehouse for three weeks.

Now the Panther jerseys are not undergoing any significant changes -- in fact team owner Jerry Richardson personally told one Panther fan in February that the uniforms won't be changing in his lifetime (although the helmets will be slightly altered this year to accommodate the new logo).

So don't despair if you've got the old stuff -- it will fit in just fine. I bought one of my kids a Cam Newton//Reebok jersey for Christmas last year, and believe me, he will be wearing that one for awhile since it was $85. For those who can't wait to buy the latest and greatest, however, it's worth checking out the Panthers' website.

It's something to do, anyway, as we wait for the draft that is now just over three weeks away. It also won't be long until the 2012 NFL schedule is announced and we see, among other things, when John Fox and Peyton Manning will be visiting Charlotte for the Broncos at Panthers game.