Richardson close to making good on 9-year-old promise

Panthers' owner pledged to win Super Bowl within 10 years of team's founding

Super Bowl notebook

January 29, 2004|By Ken Murray and Jamison Hensley | Ken Murray and Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

HOUSTON - It was made in the euphoria of the moment, but a pledge Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson made nine years ago adds an element of intrigue to the Super Bowl.

Upon being granted an expansion franchise for Charlotte, N.C., Richardson told some 50,000 fans at a victory rally that the team not only would go to the Super Bowl within 10 years, but win it.

The Panthers, in their ninth season, face the New England Patriots on Sunday with a chance to make it come true.

"We could do it. We're hopeful," Richardson said this week, sounding less bold than he did when he first made the promise.

Richardson is one of two NFL owners - the late George Halas is the other - who have played in the NFL. Richardson played on the Baltimore Colts' 1959 championship team as a receiver for John Unitas. He took his $3,500 championship-game earnings and invested it in a fast-food franchise.

"We bought a Hardee's franchise, the first one," he said. "I squirted mustard and catsup and put pickles on rolls. I wrapped the hamburgers up and sold those for 15-centers. Then we built more and more, and eventually we built several hundred."

When the NFL got around to expansion in the early 1990s, Richardson had enough money to bring pro football to the Carolinas.

Even though he was a player, Richardson said he lets his football people make the football decisions.

"I think the fact I played gives me a significant advantage," he said. "I don't even go down the track of doing football matters. We have personnel people and coaches for that. ... I think I can count only five times in our history when I addressed a coach over something that miffed me."

Near collision

The Panthers conducted a 1-hour, 45-minute practice at the University of Houston yesterday and narrowly missed a collision that could have injured one or more of their key players. When wide receiver Steve Smith ran a crossing route midway through the workout, he nearly ran into safety Deon Grant, who pulled up and avoided the collision. The pass went incomplete.

"You always have some anxiety there," coach John Fox said. "Players try to protect each other the best they can, but the important thing is we made it through unscathed."

Running back Stephen Davis, who was hampered with a leg injury before the championship game, worked with the first unit and was sharp. So was quarterback Jake Delhomme.

The Panthers practiced in shells and shorts, but Fox will have them wear pads for today's workout. If it rains, as predicted, Fox said he will move the practice to the Houston Texans' indoor facility at Reliant Stadium. The university has an indoor facility available to the Panthers, but Fox declined because the field is AstroTurf and the Panthers haven't practiced on that surface all season.

Fox comes through

Fox spent five years with the New York Giants as defensive coordinator, from 1997 until he got the Carolina job. He worked under coach Jim Fassel and general manager Ernie Accorsi, and Accorsi highly recommended him to the Panthers when they were looking for a new coach after the 2001 season.

"I felt he was special from the day we hired him," Accorsi said. "He is a great coach. He was thorough, smart, flexible. But what I saw in him - as I saw working with [Cleveland Browns coach Marty] Schottenheimer as an assistant - is that intangible quality that makes the difference between being a good assistant and a good head coach, that sometime you cannot explain but you can feel it."

Going extra mile

Much has been made of the perceived advantage the Patriots have with coach Bill Belichick and the two-week break between championship games and Super Bowl. But the Panthers have left nothing to chance in their own preparation time.

Fox and offensive coordinator Dan Henning even looked at a game tape from a 1999 game between the New York Giants and New York Jets. That's because Henning was with the Jets and Fox with the Giants. They wanted to see how Henning attacked Fox's defense to prepare for every possibility.

"We're turning over every stone," Henning said.

Taking it inside, too

Due to the expected rain in Houston over the weekend, the NFL also approved the Patriots' move of their practices from Rice University to the Texans' indoor facility.

All of the Patriots practiced yesterday, including inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who injured his right calf in the AFC championship game.

Problems cashing in

The one troubling trend for the Patriots has been their ineffectiveness in the red zone.

In the AFC championship game, they managed just one touchdown in seven trips inside the 20-yard line. For the season, New England reached the end zone 44 percent of the time when it was in the red zone (22 of 50 series), which was only better than the Ravens in the conference.

"One-for-seven isn't going to get it done this week," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. "I hope we're down there seven times, but we need to put the ball in the end zone."

One-upping his father

Patriots backup nose tackle Dan Klecko has done something his Hall of Fame father never did in 12 seasons - reach a Super Bowl. Joe Klecko was a Pro Bowl defensive lineman for the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts in the 1980s.

"I just need to take it all in because I might never be here again," said the younger Klecko, a fourth-round pick out of Temple. "He's just been real excited for us as a team, and I can't wait for him to get down here [today] and enjoy it with me."

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