It happened 15 years ago – this Carolina Panthers game that was played 1,000 miles from Charlotte, before the millennium, in a non-playoff season.
And yet “The Draw” by quarterback Steve Beuerlein to beat Green Bay at Lambeau Field in 1999 remains firmly embedded in Panthers folklore. On the eve of another Carolina-Green Bay matchup Sunday at Lambeau, it’s worth another look at the 5-yard draw for a touchdown that ended one of the most pulsating games in Carolina history.
“That was the crown jewel for me,” Beuerlein said Friday when I caught up with him by phone. “That was as good as it ever got.”
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Beuerlein, 49, lives in southern California with his wife and four children. He spent most of the first decade of his retirement in Charlotte, but moved his family to Dana Point, Calif., not far from where he grew up, in 2011. He is in his 12th year as an NFL analyst for CBS and also works a full-time job in the insurance business.
Talking about the draw play, Beuerlein said, still makes him smile. He isn’t asked about it nearly as often as he was in Charlotte, he said, but the memory is so vivid that he has no trouble recalling it.
It may be a little blurry to you, however. Or if you’re a young Panthers fan, you may never have heard of “The Draw” at all. So let’s set the stage.
On Dec. 12, 1999, George Seifert was in his first year as the Panthers’ head coach. Carolina went to Green Bay prepared for a shootout against the Packers and quarterback Brett Favre, and that’s exactly what they got.
In a game the Panthers ultimately won 33-31, Beuerlein threw for 373 yards and Favre for 302.
Beuerlein (pronounced BURR-line) was having then what would turn out to be the best season of his career. He finished 1999 with 36 touchdown passes, still the franchise record, and his lone Pro Bowl appearance. Yet even that late in the season, he was still concerned about his job. Seifert saw Beuerlein as a stopgap at quarterback. The coach had traded two draft picks for Jeff Lewis and was grooming him as Beuerlein’s replacement.
“Seifert was looking for a reason to put Jeff Lewis in,” Beuerlein said. “I have no doubt in my mind that if we didn’t win, Lewis would have been in the next week.”
‘They’ll never expect it’
The game had already had eight lead changes by the time the Panthers got the ball one last time, trailing 31-27 with four minutes left.
The drive almost stalled, but Beuerlein completed an 18-yard pass to tight end Wesley Walls on fourth-and-1 from the Green Bay 26 to keep it alive. The Panthers then nearly scored, but an apparent touchdown pass from Beuerlein to Walls was called back because Beuerlein had barely stepped over the line of scrimmage before throwing it.
Eventually, Carolina faced another fourth down from Green Bay’s 5.
Green Bay coach Ray Rhodes could have called timeout to preserve 30 seconds or so in case Carolina scored and Favre needed to go on the field one more time, but he didn’t. Instead, Carolina waited until 0:05 remained on the clock and then called its final timeout.
Beuerlein ran to the sideline, where Seifert, Lewis and third-string quarterback Steve Bono were all huddled.
“George was wearing his sunglasses, even on a gloomy day in Green Bay,” Beuerlein said. “You never could tell where he was looking or what he was thinking. Everybody was throwing out ideas and just kind of out of nowhere, he said, ‘What do you guys think about the quarterback draw?’ I was the only guy who didn’t bust out laughing. Bono about fell down he was laughing so hard.”
But Seifert was serious.
“They’ll never expect it,” he told Beuerlein. And the coach was right about that.
‘Incredible, soaring swan dive’
As Panthers cornerback Eric Davis once noted, some third-graders were faster than Beuerlein. He was generally considered as immobile as a lamp post. The Panthers also had had no success running the ball all afternoon, rushing for only 8 yards.
Beuerlein had to trot back out to the huddle and give the call. Again, laughter was the first response – followed by anger.
“The offensive linemen out there like Frank Garcia – they went from laughing their butts off to getting really upset,” Beuerlein said. “There was a lot of, ‘Why would they call that right now?’” I said, ‘You all just do your job. I’ll take care of the rest.’”
The play had a built-in adjustment if the Packers had blitzers stacked at the line of scrimmage – a throw to Walls. The tight end was so sure he would get the ball he winked at Beuerlein coming out of the huddle.
But the Packers only rushed three, spreading defensive backs all over the field to guard the Panthers’ five receivers in the pattern.
“I knew the draw was truly on then,” Beuerlein said.
The Panthers had running back William Floyd in the backfield. But Floyd motioned to the right, leaving the backfield empty. Beuerlein took the snap from center, dropped back three steps to sell the pass and then took off up the middle.
The call worked perfectly, and there was only one Packer with any chance at Beuerlein. Green Bay safety Rodney Artmore had a full head of steam and met Beuerlein just outside of the goal line.
“I don’t have a whole lot of moves,” Beuerlein said. “If he had just hit me high, I don’t think I would have scored. But for some reason, he decided to take me on low.”
Beuerlein said he jumped at that moment, although on tape it looks like his vertical leap was 2 inches. He remembered it differently, however.
“I did this incredible, soaring swan dive over the top to cross the goal line,” he laughed.
Artmore blasted into Beuerlein’s knee, however, and pain flooded his body.
“I thought he had blown out my knee,” Beuerlein said. “So I had the extreme joy of knowing we just won but I was also in excruciating pain. Imagine the dichotomy: I was in absolute agony and absolutely elated at the same time.”
Greatest in history?
Beuerlein’s knee was OK – or at least as OK as the rest of his body. He would end up playing 17 years in the NFL. He also has undergone 21 surgeries during and after his career.
The fact that the draw happened at Lambeau, Beuerlein said, makes it more special. Beuerlein was a quarterback in college for Notre Dame, and he said the two places are similar in the way they drape themselves in tradition and history.
As for the current-day NFL, Beuerlein counts himself as a “huge Cam Newton fan” and believes Newton has just scratched the surface of what he will eventually do in the NFL. Beuerlein offers opinions like that every Monday on CBS Sports Network’s “NFL Monday QB” show, a show he co-hosts that concentrates on the players at his old position.
So who is the best quarterback in the NFL at this very moment?
“Aaron Rodgers,” Beuerlein said, adding that if a general manager could pick any quarterback at this moment to start a franchise, he would probably choose between Rodgers and Andrew Luck.
Seifert released Beuerlein before the 2001 season, deciding Lewis had waited long enough. It was the worst coaching decision of Seifert’s three-year Panthers career. The coach would change his mind and fire Lewis before the 2001 season started, and the Panthers would end up 1-15. (Lewis died in 2013 at age 39, with the autopsy report concluding it was because of an accidental drug overdose).
Beuerlein signed a one-day contract before the 2004 season so he could retire as a Panther, and he has kept an eye on the Panthers ever since. He rarely gets to broadcast their games, though, since CBS broadcasts mostly AFC contests.
But Beuerlein does have his own internal ranking system of the team’s best all-time moments – and “The Draw” is very high.
“I know there have been a lot of great Panthers moments now that have knocked that play down the pecking order,” Beuerlein said with a laugh. “But to me, it will always be the greatest play in Panthers history.”