As we head into the NFL’s l-o-o-o-ong exhibition season, this week’s flashback concentrates on an exhibition everyone actually looked forward to – Carolina’s first-ever contest, in the Hall of Fame Game against expansion brother Jacksonville in 1995.
Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about that game, which was won 20-14 by Carolina. I was there, but it’s been 20 years so I had to look a lot of this up.
1 The teams lined up on the wrong sides of the field for the kickoff. Yes, they really did. All 22 players had to change sides of the 50 in front of everyone.
2 Steve Beuerlein played quarterback – for Jacksonville. “The Draw” – one of the most famous plays in Carolina history – was four years in the future.
3 Carolina’s first touchdown was scored by a 26-year-old virgin. I’m not kidding. Carolina fullback Bob Christian yanked down a 16-yard pass from Frank Reich and bulled into the end zone. Christian had the perfect surname, for he was a very fervent Christian and a strong proponent of abstinence before marriage – not usually a topic that comes up much in an NFL locker room.
Carolina’s first touchdown was scored by a 26-year-old virgin.
With Christian’s cooperation, I wrote a long story about his beliefs in 1995 a few months before this game. He said in that story: “My beliefs are all rooted in the Bible. But they are also based on common-sense observation. Look at the divorce rate these days, when one out of every two marriages ends in divorce. Look at how many people get sexually transmitted diseases or have an unwanted pregnancy. Even outside of religious beliefs, I think it makes total sense to wait.”
4 The longest touchdown of the day came from Carolina rookie cornerback Tyrone Poole, who ran an interception back 85 yards for a TD for the Panthers. Poole would much later become a villain to Carolina fans. He played for New England against Carolina in the 2003 Super Bowl, and Steve Smith said that Poole spit in his face during the game.
Carolina’s special-teams issues date back to this very first game, in which the Panthers allowed a 66-yard punt-return TD to future Super Bowl MVP Desmond Howard
5 Jacksonville’s Desmond Howard – who would become the Super Bowl MVP for Green Bay less than two years later – ran a punt back 66 yards for a TD for the Jaguars. Yes, Carolina’s special teams had issues back then, too.
6 With Carolina ahead 20-14, Jacksonville had four shots to score from inside the 5-yard line in the game’s final minutes. All four failed, with three of them incompletions by Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell, as the Panthers won the game with a goal-line stand.
7 Rookie quarterback Kerry Collins got his first NFL action that day, fumbling twice, getting blindsided once and also leading the Panthers to a field goal in limited action.
At the time, Reich was considered Carolina’s likely starter at QB for the entire 1995 season (he would start the first three regular-season games, but Collins replaced him for the fourth game). Jack Trudeau was the other Carolina quarterback who played that day.
The Panthers had three quarterbacks who played that day – starter Frank Reich, rookie Kerry Collins and veteran Jack Trudeau.
8 The game was played in Canton, Ohio, and broadcast by ABC, with the network using its “A team” at the time – Al Michaels, Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf.
9 Carolina was coached by Dom Capers and Jacksonville was coached by Tom Coughlin, who would later win two Super Bowls directing the New York Giants. At the time, though, Coughlin was known for his preponderance of rules for the Jaguars, which included players not being able to cross their legs in team meetings and coaches not being able to wear sunglasses during practice.
10 The first and second quotes in The Charlotte Observer game story the next day both were from linebacker Sam Mills, who had already assumed a leadership role on that team. “It’s not a regular-season game,” Mills said, “but we’ll always be able to say the first time we took the field, we won.”