Carolina Panthers: Remembering 2008
It’s been an exciting week to be a Carolina Panthers fan. Our team has overcome all odds to make it into the playoffs and they host a post season game for the second consecutive year for the first time in team history. Amid all the excitement of making the playoffs and the good feelings that come with a four game winning streak, I can’t get my mind off the season that this weekend reminds me of the most.
2008 was a magical year for the Panthers, where seemingly everything went right up until the end. The end of the season came when the Panthers suffered an embarrassing loss at home in the playoffs to the underdog Arizona Cardinals who would go on to play in the Super Bowl that year. The magical year for the Panthers correlated with significant events in my own personal life that will hold that season near and dear to my heart for the rest of my life. My first child was born during that season and my daughter had her first high five when the Panthers beat the Green Bay Packers in a very close game at Lambeau field.
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The Panthers 2008 season started in controversy as our fiery superstar Steve Smith lost his cool in training came and broke the nose of starting cornerback Ken Lucas. Smith was slapped with a two game suspension by the team and things seemed dire for the Panthers offensive capabilities with games coming up in San Diego and at home against Chicago. It should be noted that despite missing the first two games of the season, Smith accumulated 1,421 receiving yards. To this day my mouth still waters at the idea of what Smith may have been capable of given a full 16 game season that year.
Despite missing the best offensive player, the Panthers shocked the world by winning in the final seconds of their first game of the season on a Jake Delhomme pass. With 2 seconds remaining on the clock, Delhomme found Dante Rosario in the back of the endzone and secured a comeback win that got the season headed in the right direction immediately.
Jan 31, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; AFC squad quarterback Jake Delhomme throws a pass against the NFC squad during the Tazon Latino VII flag football game at Clinic Field inside the Ernest Morial Convention center. Super Bowl XLVII will take place between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens on February 3, 2013 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
In the absence of Steve Smith, a new offensive weapon began to emerge in week two. 2008 was the year the Panthers drafted Jonathan Stewart in the first round and Double Trouble was born. Also taken in the first round that offseason was mauling right tackle Jeff Otah, who was effective for only that first season. Stewart split carries with established starter DeAngelo Williams, and the two worked together selflessly and for the good of the team. The tandem they created gave the Panthers one of the greatest rushing attacks in the league. Williams would finish the season with a league best 1,515 yards on the ground and 18 rushing touchdowns; both still stand as single season records for the Panthers. Jonathan Stewart amassed an additional 836 yards on the ground and 8 rushing touchdowns. Sadly the running back duo would never again reach the heights that they did that season, but have continued to work well together and keep the hopes of Panther fans high with each season that has them side by side.
The running game was also aided by the return of a Panthers fan favorite. Muhsin Muhammad, always valued for his skill as a blocking receiver, returned to the team after three seasons in Chicago. When Steve Smith was injured in the first game of 2004, Muhammad stepped up and finished the season leading every major statistical category for receivers. After gaining 1,405 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns he got a big money contract in Chicago and left the Panthers. He returned after three subpar seasons and his return went a long way to the success of the team in 2008.
As the season wore on the Panthers went from winning close games, to dominating bad teams, to playing at a top level and beating the best of the best. The Panthers finished the season with a dominate record of 12-4 and gave fans every reason to hope for another trip to the Super Bowl in the post season. When the Cardinals beat the Falcons in the wildcard round, destiny seemed to lay before them. The Panthers and Falcons had split wins during the season but in the second game the Falcons dominated the Panthers. We all took had a sigh of relief when the Cardinals won because nearly everyone viewed the game against them as easily winnable. Ladies and Gentlemen we were all wrong.
The game against the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs is one that still haunts me to this day. The Panthers fell behind early and abandoned the running game that had carried them all season. With the pressure squarely on the shoulders of Jake Delhomme, he melted down in one of the worst performances I have ever seen from a veteran quarterback. Delhomme threw five interceptions and lost a fumble as the Cardinals routed the Panthers 33-13 at Bank of America stadium. The Panthers could do absolutely nothing on offense and the Cardinals were relentless with the ball. No matter how hard the Panthers hit him, Larry Fitzgerald caught every single pass thrown his way and there was just no stopping him.
Cincy on the Prowl
The Cardinals would continue on to win the Conference Championship and play in the Super Bowl that year. For those of us who had lived on cloud 9 with the Panthers for the whole season, we were left with nothing but heartache. Heartache that would grow more painful when 2009 started and Jake Delhomme stayed in 2008 post season form; throwing so many picks he was eventually benched that year.
This weekend offers an opportunity for the Panthers. I hope the guys who are still with the team today drive that into all those who have come since. They owe us a win this weekend, THEY OWE IT TO US. They owe it to those of us who still suffer the memory of the last game against the Cardinals in the playoffs. They owe it to all the fans that joined up last year when they were on top and suffered through all the misfortune with them this year. They owe it to themselves for fighting so hard to get to this point. As the game approaches I hope they feel the weight of this game and find themselves strong enough to lift it.
Football is a game of momentum and the Panthers have more momentum now than they have had all season. If they can come away victorious this weekend then truly anything can happen. The post-season is a time when anything can happen. Once you have gotten there is doesn’t matter how you did it. All that matters is what you do when you are there, and the Panthers have a chance to silence all the doubters and commentators who want to focus on our season record and say we don’t belong.