As usual, the Carolina Panthers are not in this Super Bowl. But a couple of Panthers -- one former GM, one current linebacker -- had very big and well-deserved days on the day before the big game.
Bill Polian, who was the Panthers' general manager from 1995-97 and constructed the team that got to the NFC championship in 1996, made the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday. And Thomas Davis won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which honors exemplary community service by a current NFL player. He is the Panthers' first winner of that award and was also a finalist for it a year ago.
The Panthers have been fortunate that Davis has played his entire career with Carolina. They would have been well-served had Polian stuck around longer than three years. Polian won everywhere he went and had even greater success before Carolina (in Buffalo, where he put together the nucleus of a Bills team that went to four Super Bowls but never won one) and afterward in Indianapolis (where his drafting of Peyton Manning with the No.1 overall pick in 1998 eventually helped the Colts win the Super Bowl). He is the most accomplished GM the Panthers have ever employed, although it wasn't all roses. Polian's last Panther squad, in 1997, got old in a hurry on defense.
There was one other former Panther who didn't have a good Saturday. Kevin Greene, who I believe one day will make the Hall of Fame, missed by an eyelash yet again.
Greene made it to the final cut, but was not selected. Greene only played three of his 15 years in Carolina, but if and when he does get in he will be the first hall of famer who had more than one season in a Panther uniform. He averaged nearly 14 sacks per game in those three seasons. (The late Reggie White, who got in because of his great work in Green Bay and Philadelphia, played one forgettable season in Carolina at the end of his career).
Polian still lives in Cornelius. He and his wife kept an offseason home in the Lake Norman area for years even when he worked in Indianapolis, and now that he is working primarily for ESPN they still make their home only about 20 minutes from the stadium where Davis still does his work.
I have always thought Davis should have made at least one Pro Bowl. Last year and this year he has done the best work of his career -- this after three serious knee operations on the same knee -- and that should be more nationally recognized. But winning the Walter Payton award is a major honor and one that should help Davis do even more good work in this community, as well as in his Georgia hometown. For that, we can all be grateful.