Saturday, January 5, 2013

Former Panther Jeff Lewis dies at age 39

Former Panther quarterback Jeff Lewis (above) died Saturday in Phoenix at age 39. The cause of death has not been released at this time. (MONDAY UPDATE: Over the weekend, police in Phoenix said foul play was not suspected and that Lewis suffered from a pre-existing health condition, but would not say what that condition was.

Stoltenberg (AP)
(SUNDAY UPDATE: I didn't know this until several alert readers pointed it out, but a center on the Panther team who played at the same time Lewis played and who often snapped Lewis the ball in practices and games died Friday. Bryan Stoltenberg, who started 18 games for Carolina between 1998-2000 and played in 20 others, was 40 years old. He recently underwent several surgeries after a serious car accident last month and a blood clot is suspected as the cause of death, according to the University of Colorado website. Stoltenberg passed away at his home in Sugarland, Texas, and is survived by his wife and three sons, ages 16, 14 and 11. This is so sad -- and very strange, as it came about 24 hours before Lewis's death). Here is a link to my column on the deaths of both men, which expands upon the blog items below.

Lewis had been coaching the wide receivers at Northern Arizona, his alma mater, a job he took prior to the 2012 season. The school put out a statement announcing his death (his Northern Arizona bio and a "Getting to Know Jeff Lewis" video can be found here). Lewis was a four-year starter at Northern Arizona from 1991-95 and was in the college’s hall of fame. He also had previously spent three years as an assistant coach at the University of Louisville and done some high school coaching as well. His official school biography had said Lewis was the “proud father” of one son but did not mention any other family. Funeral arrangements are pending.

The Panthers traded for Lewis in 1999, shortly after hiring coach George Seifert. Seifert was very enamored with Lewis, who had the sort of mobility that he had liked and had been considered the heir apparent to John Elway in Denver before he blew out his knee in a pickup basketball game and fell out of favor with coach Mike Shanahan.

The Panthers gave up a third-round pick in 1999 and what turned out to be fourth-rounder in 2000 for Lewis. Seifert wanted Lewis to eventually replace Beuerlein as the starter. Beuerlein kept playing too well for that to happen, however – making the Pro Bowl in 1999 and then also playing decently in 2000.

In the spring of 2001, Seifert sped up the timetable by making one of the most bizarre moves in Panther history – he released Beuerlein with the idea of making Lewis his starter. That backfired badly. Lewis had two awful games in a row in the 2001 preseason – in one, throwing three straight interceptions -- and the mercurial Seifert first demoted him to fourth team and then cut Lewis outright before the season began, handing the starting job to rookie Chris Weinke. The Panthers then went 1-15.

Lewis was sensitive to his mistakes during his three rocky years in Carolina, understanding that he had not fulfilled expectations. He never threw a touchdown pass in 11 exhibitions and in his limited regular-season duty for Carolina. Yet the Panthers paid him more than $7 million and gave him a three-year contract extension before he had ever taken a snap.

“I’m not going to make any excuses, " he said after being released in 2001. "Obviously, I'm disappointed it didn't work out. I tried as hard as I could. I probably tried too hard."

When asked if anything could have been different about his time at Carolina he said then: “I want to take the high road on this whole thing. I played as hard as I could every time I was out there.”

And he did. He just wasn’t a very good player. In fact, he was really bad by NFL quarterback standards and never threw an actual NFL TD pass.

But by all accounts – including mine -- Lewis was a very good person. I did not get to know him well, but I always respected him as a player who tried to make the best out of one bad situation after another. And it wasn’t his fault Seifert invested so much in him -- hey, he was just trying to do his best, and he attracted the attention of a coach who at the time had a great reputation with quarterbacks. So I am very sorry to hear of his passing, as I am sure all Panther fans are.

Lewis and Stoltenberg become at least the sixth and seventh Panthers I can remember who have died. If I am missing someone, please tell me. The others I recall are: Curtis Whitley (former center for the 1995 and 1996 Panther teams); Fred Lane (running back, 1997-99); Reggie White (defensive end in 2000); Sam Mills (linebacker, 1995-97) and Al Lucas (defensive lineman, 2000-01, thanks to both Mike Rucker and Greg 'Catman' Good for reminding me about Lucas, who died after a serious injury in an Arena Football league game). I talked to Rucker Sunday afternoon and he said Lewis was a "great, clean-cut, lighthearted" guy and that Stoltenberg had a fine sense of humor and was known in the locker room for "having some of the biggest calves known to man."

Guest Book for Jeff Lewis: Post thoughts, condolences

Guest Book for Bryan Stoltenberg: Post thoughts, condolences


Greg Catman Good said...

There was "AL Lucas" DL #71 He played with Reggie White in yr 2000.

Anonymous said...

Stoltenberg died Friday (adding to your list of Panthers who have passed).

BigMikey said...

Very sorry to hear of this. Anyone who gives their utmost effort deserves respect.

Anonymous said...

Sad to hear of his passing. 39 is so young.

Anonymous said...

Jeff Lewis sadly passes away in Arizona and your entire column focuses on his failures here in Charlotte. I hope his family doesn't see this garbage.

Anonymous said...

Anon-10:03a - This is a news article in a Charlotte paper. If you don't mention how he is connected to Charlotte, why even write the article. Lighten up. This is not garbage.

John said...

Anonymous 10:03,

I suggest you keep your day job. If he hadn't discussed it, some other idiot would've been on here complaining that he didn't!

I have no problem with criticizing when a writer is off base, but some of you will gripe if they write that the sky is blue!

Honestly, I think some of you only read the stories so you can post insulting commentary!

Anonymous said...

@10:03AM I agree....seems like it was written as some sort of rebuttal to a eulogy.

Anonymous said...

Scott Fowler said it: he was a good guy. He took the high road. He tried hard. For a sportswriter to remember the situation that Jeff Lewis had in Charlotte is the only reason the column was written. He was a quarterback...he wasn't a good one, but he's part of the sports lore of professional football in Charlotte. Obit writers write obits. Sports writers write sports. Good job Scott as usual. RIP Jeff Lewis. Enjoy the is sometimes way too short.

Anonymous said...

We pray for the family and friends of Jeff Lewis.
Life is like a Vapor!
We never know when our last moment will be.
We know we lost an 18 year old son in a very "UNUSUAL WAY"
See his story and news coverage video at
God is Real

Anonymous said...

Only sailors & "critics" post in these sort of message boards. You are the lowest forms of life.

Anonymous said...

So which are you, a "sailor" or a "critic".