Suddenly, bloom is off Panthers' once-rosy future

On The NFL

September 27, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

When the Carolina Panthers were awarded an expansion team in 1993, owner Jerry Richardson predicted they'd win a Super Bowl in a decade.

He seemed on schedule when the Panthers went to the NFC title game in their second season in 1996.

But in their fourth season, the bottom has fallen out. The Panthers are not thinking Super Bowl right now. They're thinking about winning a game. They're 0-2, coming off an open date and play host to the Green Bay Packers today.

To make matters worse, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the other expansion team awarded in 1993, are 3-0.

Richardson, who played for the Baltimore Colts, isn't taking the adversity well.

It was reported last week that he called an impromptu team meeting after the first loss to Atlanta and chewed out the players.

Richardson wouldn't comment, but he apparently said the team had spent too much money in free agency to tolerate poor performances.

He singled out a 98-yard touchdown drive the team gave up in the second quarter as an example of an unacceptable effort.

The Panthers spent $28 million in signing bonuses alone to bring in such free agents as Sean Gilbert, Doug Evans, Kevin Greene, William Floyd, Brent Alexander, Jeff Brady and Corbin Lacina.

None of those players would discuss Richardson's tirade.

Of course, coach Dom Capers had to defend the owner.

"My feeling has never changed about Mr. Richardson from Day One. It's even stronger now after being with him four years. I think we've got one of the best owners in the league."

What could Capers say? He couldn't say Richardson's tirade was counterproductive.

What Richardson doesn't seem to understand is that tirades by the owner don't help a team win.

Teams have to draft well and sign the right players to win. And they have to get the right quarterback. Jacksonville traded for Mark Brunell. Carolina drafted Kerry Collins. That's a big advantage for the Jaguars.

The Panthers were so inspired by Richardson's outburst that they went out and lost to New Orleans by the same score (19-14) that they lost the opener.

After a bye week, the pressure is really on the team today against Green Bay.

"This is a must-win situation for us," said Brady, a linebacker. "If you don't think it is, you're crazy. There are a lot of things brewing around here right now."

Meat market'

Linebacker Greg Lloyd, who'll start for Carolina today because Lamar Lathon is injured, blames a staph infection that he said he got from a painkilling injection at halftime in Philadelphia last year for ending his career in Pittsburgh. He was cut after limping through minicamp.

"It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. But what can you do? You can walk around and be angry the rest of your life, or you can get over it. I got over it," he said.

But he doesn't sound like he did. He said he now has a dark view of life in the NFL.

"This is a meat market," he said. "We're not more than cattle. When you come into this business, you have to realize, 'I'm just a piece of meat.' As long as you get the job done, I'm here. But when I can't get it done anymore, it's like -- next guy. It doesn't matter if you put in 10, 11 or 12 years. There's nobody there to pat you on the back and say, 'Good job.' It's like, 'Hey, we can't use you anymore. Goodbye.' "

It's a lesson most players don't learn until the end of their careers.

For his next trick

When Simeon Rice of the Arizona Cardinals ended his string of nine games without a sack with two against the Philadelphia Eagles last week, he said: "Just call me the great Mussolini."

He meant Houdini.

Rice has to hope that Orlando Pace doesn't make him disappear today when the Cardinals play the St. Louis Rams.

Rice went up against Pace when he was at Illinois and Pace was at Ohio State and he said, "Orlando was the best talent I ever went up against in college."

Remembering Mora

Running back Ray Zellars can't wait for New Orleans' game today against the Indianapolis Colts.

That's because the Colts are now coached by former Saints coach Jim Mora, who suspended Zellars for a game in 1996 after an exchange of profanities on the practice field.

"When I'm tired and sucking wind Sunday, I'll look across the field and see him and get a second wind. He'll be my biggest inspiration," Zellars said.

Mora said: "It's just a game. We have 16 of them and this is one of the 16. It doesn't mean any more to me."

The game will also give quarterback Peyton Manning a chance to play against the team his father played for, but he said: "It really doesn't bring as much [meaning] as you might think."

Lifting the blackout

The Jaguars have come up with an unusual explanation for lifting the television blackout, even when they're not sold out.

They say their unsold seats are premium seats, seats for the disabled and seats obstructed by railings, so they don't count toward the blackout.

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