Saturday’s practice at Gibbs Stadium was so good that when it ended fans gave the Carolina Panthers an ovation.
This wasn’t: Thank you professional football players for coming to our town.
This was: Thanks for beating each other up where we could see it.
The Carolina offense was playing well. Cam Newton and Derek Anderson were finding receivers and DeAngelo Williams was finding holes.
Then, in a goal line drill, the defense remembered who it was. Players had been hitting all morning. Now they were hammering. You could hear the contact from the bleachers and feel it from the sideline.
Byron Bell, the 340-pound tackle, and Thomas Davis, the 235-pound linebacker, began shouting at each other. They were going at it. Receiver Jason Avant left the game and Davis yelled at him and Avant, smiling, yelled at the offense to go at 58, go at 58, the number that Davis happens to wear.
By now starters were yelling at starters, reserves were yelling at starters and starters were yelling at reserves.
Then came the play. On fourth and goal the Panthers handed the ball to 245-pound fullback Mike Tolbert. Tolbert had planned to run to the end zone but 238-pound linebacker Luke Kuechly found a gap and ran into Tolbert first. Kuechly stuffed Tolbert and the defense stuffed the offense and the defense celebrated as if it was the king of the practice field.
You couldn’t hear the hit in Charlotte but if you lived in Greenville (S.C. not N.C.) you had a shot.
You’ll recall that in the Pro Bowl Tolbert ran over Kuechly.