4 times the Carolina Panthers made us proud throughout history

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Steve Smith
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Steve Smith /
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Muhsin Muhammad, Carolina Panthers
(Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) Muhsin Muhammad /

Carolina Panthers Moment No. 2: The Cardiac Cats and the postseason run of 2003

There is so much to cover with the 2003 season that it doesn’t feel right to confine it to just one single moment. The Carolina Panthers had to overcome a grueling NFC bracket that they eventually fought through to reach Super Bowl 38.

To understand the importance of this specific team, one must first go back to the 2001 season when the Panthers went an abysmal 1-15 on their way to the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. With the emergence of the young defensive end Julius Peppers, a surprise standout season from backup quarterback Jake Delhomme, and the surrounding team that found a way to perform consistently in the clutch, the “Cardiac Cats” became the first Panthers’ team to make it to the playoffs since 1996.

This was no accident, as they dominated the NFC South with a 5-1 record. And the organization swept the reigning champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the process.

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The 11-5 Panthers secured home-field advantage in the Wild Card round and faced the Dallas Cowboys once again. In a rematch of a Week 12 road loss, Dallas was routed 29-10.

From there, the Cardiac Cats traveled to St. Louis to face Marshall Faulk and the explosive Rams’ offense. While many people remember this game for Smith’s touchdown on the first play of double overtime. There were many other critical elements that eventually saw Carolina progress.

These included Delhomme’s failed pitch that was advanced for a touchdown and full-back Brad Hoover score on a seven-yard run to put the Panthers up by 13. On the following drive, Carolina’s defense picked off the Rams and looked like they were in the clear.

As anyone who lived through it could tell you, this team fought and clawed to close victories all season long. A comfortable win was never on the cards against the Rams. And following the end of the first period of overtime, the Panthers and St. Louis were still locked at 23.

The Panthers started their final drive on their own 35 after an interception by Ricky Manning Jr. On the first play of double overtime, Delhomme fired a 69-yard strike downfield to an open Smith on what will forever be known as “X-Clown”.

Smith’s exceptional double move on the outside allowed him to escape as he bolted into the endzone with his now-iconic pose with arms outstretched. The Panthers then went on the road to face the Philadelphia Eagles, who were widely regarded as the NFC’s best team.

Quarterback Donovan Mcnabb was known for his strong command of the offense and numerous heroics throughout his early career that had led the Eagles to three straight NFC East titles. The Panthers would overshadow the star signal-caller as Manning Jr., a hero from the previous game, would pick him off no fewer than three times, tying the record for second-most interceptions in a playoff game.

During a dramatic goal-line stand for Philadelphia, Carolina’s Deshaun Foster bounced outside to the right and broke several tackles as he fell forward into the endzone on a play that Panthers’ radio announcer Bill Rosinski said lasted “a minute and a half”. This gave the team security they needed to clinch their first Super Bowl berth.