Ah, the rare football phenomenon.
Some are mystified by it.
But some know it as “six degrees of Pepper-ation.”
Quarterbacks and coaches alike just can’t seem to quit the Carolina Panthers all-time sack leader Julius Peppers.
At 37 years old, Peppers leads Carolina in sacks through four games with 4.5, and hasn’t showed the slightest sign of slowing down.
It is safe to say Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell and his quarterback, Matt Stafford, are not looking forward to meeting Peppers on Sunday.
“I can’t get away from that guy,” Stafford told reporters this week.
And that’s true. Peppers has sacked Stafford seven times in as many years facing the quarterback twice per season, with Chicago and Green Bay.
And if Stafford thinks he has it rough – try being Caldwell.
The Lions head coach hasn’t been able to escape the looming presence of Peppers for nearly two decades.
Caldwell was head coach at Wake Forest for two of the three years Peppers was a star two-sport athlete at North Carolina, from 1999-2001.
“Peppers just seems to be ageless at 37 years old,” Caldwell laughed on a conference call on Wednesday. “He still looks like he’s got the twitch and speed, about as fast as he looked when I saw him for the first time when I was at Wake Forest, when he was at Carolina.
“He was a very, very talented individual.”
Peppers has stayed on Caldwell’s radar since their college days, but the head coach can remember the moment Peppers got on it in the first place.
“Well, primarily it was one play in particular. I can’t remember who they were playing against, but it was someone who was trying to throw a pass down the field,” said Caldwell. “He came off the edge and jumped up and caught it in midair. He’s quite a talent.”
Peppers had five interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns, while at North Carolina.
“Then obviously we had a chance to watch him play basketball as well,” Caldwell said. “He’s one of those individuals who is rare, you know, a big-time college basketball player at one of the most competitive places in the country, as well as also an All-American football player.”
Head coach Ron Rivera said he’s starting to get a little tickled by how many quarterbacks Carolina is visiting this year who have had prior encounters with Peppers, especially as the team begins playing the NFC North opponents. They all either had Peppers on their team or saw him bearing down on them twice a year for the past seven years.
“It really is kind of amusing, sometimes I do think about it,” Rivera said. “I think it’ll be fun to watch. The guy has been terrific, he really has.”
Carolina’s own quarterback, Cam Newton, is just thankful that he wasn’t on the receiving end of the two sacks and three hurries that earned Peppers his seventh NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors, a record for active players.
“I’m just glad he didn’t get Defensive Player of the Week for sacking me!” he joked.