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Sorensen: On cut day, somebody wins; somebody loses

Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/08/29/21/29/69WAK.Em.138.jpeg|365
    David T. Foster, III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
    Carolina Panthers' Brenton Bersin (2) celebrates his touchdown Derek Anderson (3) against the Kansas City Chiefs in the second half of their preseason game at Bank of America Stadium on Aug. 17, 2014
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/08/29/21/29/2bf4r.Em.138.jpeg|418
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brenton Bersin (2) catches a pass as Buffalo Bills cornerback Bobby Felder (39) applies defensive pressure during second quarter action at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Aug. 8, 2014.

How are you going to spend the first morning of what for most of us is a beautiful three-day weekend, Brenton Bersin?

“Put my cell phone on high volume,” says Bersin, a Carolina Panther wide receiver. “And hope it never rings.”

If it does, it could be his employers. They’ll tell him he failed to make the team.

We all get cut. We don’t get the job we want, the house we want, the spouse we want. Somebody wins. Somebody loses. They advance. We get cut.

In the NFL, cuts are more vivid and much more public than in our lives. Everybody knows who makes the roster and forgets who fails to.

A week ago the Panthers had 90 players, so many they had to stick 20 of them – and their lockers – in what usually is the players lounge. On Tuesday the Panthers reduced the roster from 90 to 75. By 4 p.m. Saturday the Panthers have to reduce it from 75 to 53.

One of the worst days of the season to be a head coach, Carolina’s Ron Rivera says.

“You become attached,” Rivera says. “Letting Kealoha Pilares go was very hard. He was a young man that did some good things for us, and he brought some excitement and is a good person.”

The Panthers cut Pilares, a receiver who played three seasons for Carolina, on Monday.

The Chicago Bears cut Rivera, a linebacker, in 1993.

“I went through it for nine seasons,” Rivera says of his time with the Bears. “And you always think you’re going to get it, you’re going to get it. I always used to show up early just to get it over with. The crazy thing is, I was a second-round pick, and they weren’t going to cut me my first few years. But I’d show up early anyway.

“Then at the end, I showed up early because I was an older guy making a lot of money. I was told, ‘Coach (Dave Wannstedt) would like to talk to you.’ (Wannstedt) said, ‘Hey Ron, we’re going in another direction. For what we pay you we could pay some other people.’ And that’s what they did.”

Anticipating the words didn’t help.

“Oh gosh, I couldn’t go back in the locker room,” Rivera says. “I just told them go ahead and send me my stuff and I’ll sign the paper and I walked out.”

For weeks there have been conversations between the general manager, head coach and position coaches.

Yet, some decisions, like some games, come down to the final seconds.

Last season the Panthers debated whether to keep undrafted rookie Melvin White or veteran Drayton Florence. The Panthers finally decided that if they cut the rookie cornerback, he was more likely to be scooped up by another team. So they cut the veteran cornerback.

Three weeks later they brought Florence back.

What if a player refuses to answer his phone? This happens. Hey, a train was going by and I live on the wrong side of the tracks and – when the player walks into Bank of America Stadium, operatives are waiting.

Bersin, 24, shouldn’t encounter one. He’s been the team’s second leading receiver in the preseason and had a great camp.

But there are six other receivers on the roster, and Bersin, who came to the Panthers from Charlotte Latin and Wofford, knows Carolina won’t keep them all.

Last season, Bersin’s phone call wasn’t all bad. He didn’t make the team but he did make the practice squad.

In 2012, the news was all bad. He failed to make the final 75.

Bersin drove to Bank of America Stadium, cleaned out his locker and handed his uniform, helmet and shoulder pads to equipment manager Jackie Miles.

Then he walked out of the building – to what?

“It was probably the worst feeling ever,” Bersin says. “My dream was to play in the NFL and I got cut, and I didn’t know what to do. I mean, you’re unemployed; you don’t know if you’re going to get a call. There’s a lot of anxiety, stress. It sucks, to be honest with you.”

Miles is the last stop for every player who is released. Some linger at Miles’ desk in the back of the locker room, knowing, perhaps, that they might never see another NFL locker room. Others skip out so quickly that Miles cleans up their lockers for them, but only after they leave.

As soon as the players are gone, the Panthers focus on those who stay. Miles and his staff quickly turn the players lounge into a players lounge, dismantling the 20 extra lockers. The lockers belonged to newcomers such as free-agent running back Fozzy Whittaker and rookie receiver Philly Brown.

Fozzy and Philly will either move into the locker room or on to whatever comes next.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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