As I am spending the early hours of this Saturday morning reading through all the NFL news, I cannot help but notice the widgets staring at me on any given sports based website that point towards the story about Stephen Davis (wearing a Panther uniform) signing with the St Louis Rams. Personally I am insouciant in regards to this headline.
I appreciated all that Stephen did for this team and will never abase his contribution to the 2003 Superbowl run. But I have never lost sight of what he was for the Panthers. A free agent acquisition to fill a need. Apropos of the modern day NFL, we as fans should be careful about who we assign loyalty towards in regards to the players. A player like Davis came in as a hired gun. The coaching staff and the team got what they needed out of him and then made the decision to go another way. The Rams are now hiring him to feel the veteran spot vacated by Marshall Faulk. I wish Big Country all the best in his career.
But the one thing this news did accomplish was to get me a little nostalgic of some of the players who have come and gone in years past. On the current roster we have at least one player that I feel that if he chose to depart for free agency would incite a lot of passion. That is Julius Peppers. For the most part I do not think we have seen any one former Panther player approach the level of city wide acceptance and love that former Charlotte Hornet Alonzo Mourning received. When he was forced out of town by the weasel George Shinn it laid the seeds for the eventual departure of the Hornets. However there was indeed one member of the Panthers who did at least ignite a measure of emotion and controversy regarding his stay here and his eventual departure. That would the newest member of the Tennessee Titans, quarterback Kerry Collins.
In being the fifth overall pick in the 1995 draft Kerry also has the honor of being the first original Panther. He was the rookie QB who stepped in for the aging and floundering Frank Reich during the Panthers first ever home game in 'Death Valley'. He was also the man who helped take the team all the way to the 1996 NFC Championship in Green Bay. Collins was indeed on his way to being the benchmark for all other players who would wear the Black, Blue and Silver. Instead Kerry took a big U-turn from the path to martyrdom and certainly ranks as the most despised original Panther is the teams short history.
When the 1997 preseason began, the high flying defending NFC West champion Panthers were dealt a healthy dose of reality when linebacker Bill Romanowski of the Denver Broncos broke Kerry's jaw with a very questionable hit in the game. Collins, and therefore the Panthers, season never really got on its footing after that and the team finished 7-9. During that off-season the media started reporting about Kerry's wild parties and fight with alcoholism. To open the 1998 season Collins got labeled a racist after some off the cuff derogatory words thrown around during training camp. Then after an 0-4 start, he walked into the office of coach Dom Capers and resigned from the team. Carolina placed him on waivers, the New Orleans Saints signed him.
As a final curtain call to the Queen City, in November of 1998 Kerry was arrested for driving while intoxicated and gave this city it's first taste of the darker side of professional sports that would haunt it's football franchise for the next few years. For some time after Kerry's irresolute departure the #12 was a four letter word around these parts. One of my friends turned his Kerry Collins jersey into a Halloween costume complete with a missing heart. Panther Nation was not hurt enough to completely lose interest in the team. But the virgin pain of betrayal had a firm grip on most of us at the time.
It might intrigue some to know that even when he was throwing interceptions and drink till dawn Kerry was considered one of the most charitable players in the NFL. Immediately upon signing his rookie contract with the Carolina Panthers, he donated $250,000 to the Penn State athletic department to permanently endow the quarterback position. He has donated over 2 million dollars to charities such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Harlem Boys Choir. In 2001, Collins donated $120,000 to Manhattan's Ladder 5/Engine 24 Family Relief following the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center.
Through the KC for Kids Fund of the Kerry Collins Foundation, Collins has donated more than $500,000 for the renovation of the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, a children's unit within the NYU Medical Center. Previously Collins donated $100,000 to the Institute, to establish the Kerry M. Collins Computer Center and Classroom, with specially modified equipment for infirmed children. During the 2005 season, Collins pledged $1,000 for every touchdown he threw and every game the Raiders won to the American Red Cross Hurricane Katrina relief fund. On March 24, 2006, Collins was honored by The Second Mile Foundation in recognition of his commitment to others.
I know there are fans out there that feel betrayed anytime a player they like switches teams. However in the vast majority of cases it is simply not worth the effort. In today's game players are just a commodity and move around to the situation that suits them best. Maybe it is a selfish notion that for the most part it is about following the money. Of course I find being judgmental right up there with being greedy, so I try and take the more empathic road towards understanding. If a player wants to leave the Panthers, it is their choice and I should be man enough to let them go. Save your loyalty, and jersey money, for those rare and special athletes who don't want to let you the Carolina fan go and choose to remain a Panther for life.